ACC must carry on fight against corruption, lawfully

Editorial, NewAge, September 26, 2007

The army-led task forces under the national coordination committee against corruption and serious crimes ‘will wind up their drives against corruption this month,’ announced the communications adviser to the military-driven interim government, who is also the chairman of the committee, on Monday. The upside of the anti-corruption drive is that it has brought to book some people hitherto regarded as being above and beyond the law. However, the downside of it is that actions against these people have not always been either transparent or within the ambit of law. One must say such arbitrary actions by the task forces induced a climate of fear within the business community, which, many believe, not only destabilised the market mechanism but also stagnated the economy. Last month business leaders alleged at a meeting with the chief of army staff that the wholesale hunt for corruption suspects and the drives against black money holders and tax dodgers by the Anti-Corruption Commission and the National Board of Revenue had spread panic in the business community. That their allegation is not far-fetched was evident from the subsequent assurance of the government that businesspeople would not be harassed any further without any specific charges.

Be that as it may, we cannot but articulate our frustration, once again, at the unidirectional manner in which the anti-corruption drive has been conducted thus far. We have pointed out in these columns many a time that it takes a nexus of self-serving politicians, unscrupulous businesspeople and top bureaucrats to pull off high-profile corruption. However, the list of people arrested and prosecuted thus far is heavily dominated by politicians. There are a few businesspeople and even fewer former bureaucrats on the list but there are reasons to believe that they have been targeted primarily for their affiliation with one political party or the other. Overall, the government’s argument that the list of corruption suspects has been prepared on the basis of the gravity of charges and it does not give much thought on ‘whether they belong to any political parties or the business community’ does not hold. The anti-corruption drive continues to be generally perceived as part of a plan to malign the politicians with the objective of depoliticising society.

While the drive by the task forces draws to an end, we expect the fight against corruption to continue with earnestness. As the chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission said the other day, corruption cannot be weeded out overnight; therefore, the fight against corruption has to be a perpetual process, not episodic intensification of law-enforcement activities. There has to be preventive measures, such as widespread awareness campaigns against the menace, prohibitive laws and regulations, and, most importantly, stringent and efficient enforcement of the laws. Whoever is suspected of corruption should be probed and prosecuted, in a transparent manner and within the ambit of the law of the land. Last but not least, the commission has to put its anti-corruption activism in the right perspective and try to dismantle the nexus behind high-profile corruptions, instead of going after one of its components or the other.

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