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Dhaka Tribune

Fighting corruption in Bangladesh

Update : 11 Jul 2013, 05:02 AM

Does Transparency International (TI) need to tell us that corruption is rampant in Bangladesh? Not really.

Each of us thinks that corruption is here to stay, no matter who runs the government. Our politicians are corrupt, our bureaucrats are corrupt, our regulators are corrupt, and most of us are engaged in corrupt practices or accept corruption as part of life.

The “approval raj” harnessed by the British East India Company does not allow any business establishment to be free-flowing, no matter whether you have capital, land, unique business plan or best of the people. You can accelerate the movement of the “files” or “approvals” if you have enough “oil” to use, and that oil is money.

Who is the worst victim? The poor. Since they don’t have money, they can’t get minimum expected treatment in the government hospitals, their sons and daughters don’t get jobs or even admission in good schools or colleges.

If they don’t know the local influentials or people with power, their sons could be taken into custody anytime by the policemen and “shown arrested” in all kinds of false cases including murder charges.

Yes, media is there. But we seem to expect too much from them. They don’t have reach everywhere. Moreover, they also have stability issues since most newspapers or televisions are in loss or are not self-sustaining.

Most importantly many of their owners are unscrupulous businessmen who allegedly obtained licenses to protect their wealth or wrongdoing, and that too, in a corrupt way. Word is most of the newspapers, more importantly television licenses, were granted either in exchange for money or to the political cronies.

One may ask, why so much of expectation from the media? Where is the judiciary? I wish we could ask this question very loudly. Over the years, our judiciary has been damaged.

People here in Bangladesh can no longer depend on the integrity or “looking beyond the box” capability of our judges. Civil bureaucracy has been pushed to the corner. Meritocracy is no longer encouraged. Mediocrity is very much encouraged, if you belong to “our party” only.

Continuous politicisation has ruined our civil servants. Most of them prefer to be personal secretaries to ministers or state ministers, rather than be on the ground, serving the people or going for higher studies. An increasing number of them seems to be lining up to “buy higher degrees” online.

Ask anyone on the streets or in the offices: most would say corruption can’t be controlled in Bangladesh. It is unabated here. Many of them have adapted to this as a part of the lifestyle. Even the educated ones are confused with “right and wrong.”

However, most of these are coming from “power politics.” Everybody wants to be nearer to power. Without power “seniors seem to lying on the bed with a quilt even on a summer day.” Bureaucrats become desperate for an extension, politicians can do anything to remain in power and the businessmen would keep no stones unturned to be close to the people “who matter most” to them.

People turn to policemen to protect them. But you even have to look after the “best policemen” because they are being paid so low. Thank God, we had continuous private sector entry in our service sector. You can get a cell phone connection almost free here.

There were days when the queue for a landline connection was almost several kilometres long. Licensing requirement for our external trade didn’t only delay the process, it also took away most of the margins or spreads into the wrong pockets.

Thanks to some of our policy makers and development partners, they did seriously push for deregulation or reforms in international trade regime or process. However, age old rules and guidelines seem to be again the number one barrier towards realising our growth potentials.

Law ministry is supposed to delineate appropriate laws to support market friendly growth. They don’t have time, because they are too busy to “push the opposition to the corner” or at least tackle them with all uniqueness. We need a regulatory reforms commission to work, update the laws and regulations in line with other competing countries.

Question is – will the regulatory reform solve all the problems? Will the poor get minimum service from the utility companies? Not really. Laws or rules don’t favour the poor in our countries. You need money. Just poverty alleviation programmes can’t help this either.

Many non-government organisation (NGO) bosses are moving around with a “stigma” of corruption. We need rule of law to prevail or dictate the terms. We need governance and accountability to work.

Who will ensure that? The highest person in the government or the political hierarchy. Yes, the scenario in India and Pakistan is telling us we desperately need a working judiciary, a dependable judiciary, if not a forward looking judiciary.

They must step in to ensure justice, protect the institutions, and protect the interest of the common people and the marginalised. If the “top man or woman” does not have any tolerance for corruption, it has to gradually reduce and take a corner. It would at least not be at the “centre of the plate.”

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