More reasons than one to disband truth commission

Editorial, NewAge, September 5, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

THE Truth and Accountability Commission, installed by the military-controlled interim government for a few months to allow some people to admit to their corruption thereafter absolve themselves of their wrongdoings, is, as expected, proving to be by and large ineffective. First, there is already a writ petition with the High Court challenging the legality of the commission which has cast a shadow over its activities. Second, only 18 parties have thus far availed the services of the commission, admitting to irregularities of about Tk 5.7 crore and promising to deposit the sum with the exchequer in return for pardon. These 18 are mostly government officials whose ill-gotten wealth was accumulated through bribery. However, it must be remembered that one of the main reasons for the establishment of this commission was to allow businessmen to avail the opportunity to admit to their wrongdoings, pay fines and thereby avoid prosecution. This would, it was hoped, provide a signal to the market that the incumbents are willing to facilitate business activity which in turn would infuse more dynamism and vibrancy into the stagnating economy. This has obviously not happened as the business community has altogether shied away from availing this facility. According to reports, even the chairman of the commission did not sound upbeat as far as that objective was concerned since most of the people taking this opportunity were bureaucrats and not businessmen.
   

Also, politicians accused of similar wrongdoings are not allowed to avail the same facility as businessmen and bureaucrats. This is arbitrary, duplicitous and unlawful. There cannot be two sets of laws or rules for two different groups of people for the same crimes, and as such, the actions of this commission are contrary to the spirit of the rule of law and justice. Moreover, there cannot be any forum or body to deal with criminal offence other than the judiciary according to the constitution. It is the incumbents’ contention that the commission would reduce the burden of the court system and expedite some cases. However, that stance is not acceptable since the constitution quite unambiguously stipulates that the judiciary is the only competent body to dispose of criminal cases. As such, this commission is at best a vigilante initiative.
   

Considering that the Truth and Accountability Commission has not only failed to attain its desired objective but is also contrary to the constitutional provisions and the spirit of the rule of law, we see no reason for it to continue to exist. The incumbents would do well to dismantle it and allow the law to take its own course in cases of financial corruption as with any other criminal offence.

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