Archive for the ‘Corruption’ Category

ACC ordinance challenged in High Court

August 4, 2008

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, August 4, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

The legality of the ordinance promulgated on April 28, 2007 bringing about changes in the Anti-Corruption Commission Act was challenged in the High Court on Sunday.
   Supreme Court lawyer Ahsanul Karim filed the writ petition challenging the legality of the Anti-Corruption Commission (Amendment) Ordinance 2008.
   

The petition is likely to be heard by the High Court bench of Justice Khademul Islam Chowdhury and Justice Mashuque Hossain Ahmed today, Ahsanul told reporters after filing the petition.
 The petitioner said the military-controlled interim government had the ordinance promulgated by the president giving more muscle to the commission in violation of the constitution as the caretaker government cannot make any ordinance not directly related to the holding of elections.
   

The Anti-Corruption Commission (Amendment) Ordinance was promulgated empowering any officer of the commission to arrest anyone on suspicion of corruption without any warrant and even before filing of a case against the person.
   The ordinance also changed the Anti-Corruption Commission Act, declaring any offence under the act cognisable and non-bailable, meaning that no graft suspect arrested or sued by the commission could be granted bail.
   

The ordinance also empowered the commission to give ex post facto approval of the action taken by any officer of the commission between February 7 and February 24, 2007 without its prior approval.
   

The law was so amended to ratify the action, including notifying 50 corruption suspects asking them to submit wealth statements, taken by the then secretary of the commission during the period, when no commissioner was there.
   

The ordinance removed the requirement of the commission’s approval for preliminary inquiry or investigation of any graft case, but such an approval would be needed before the submission of the charge sheet.

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Truth and Accountability Commission to be formed within 10 days

July 24, 2008

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, July 24, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

The interim government is going to form the ‘controversial’ Truth and Accountability Commission to let people voluntarily admit their corruption, submit their ill-gotten wealth to the exchequer and seek mercy within ten days.
   

‘The commission will be formed within seven to 10 days…It will begin functioning immediately after its birth,’ law adviser AF Hassan Ariff told reporters at the secretariat on Wednesday.
   

A retired judge of the High Court Division, Justice Habibur Rahman Khan, may be appointed chairman of the commission, said sources.
   

The law adviser, however, refused to give details of the persons to be included in the commission.
   

On May 25 the council of advisers at a meeting approved the proposal for setting up a body called ‘Truth and Accountability Commission’ under the Voluntary Disclosure Ordinance 2008 to deal with corruption.
   

Politicians have termed the move a ‘travesty of justice’, saying it proves that the government has bowed its head to high-profile corruption suspects. But the government defends the decision and says that it wants to eradicate corruption.
   

Besides launching the anti-graft drive, targeting mainly the politicians, the government has been considering formation of the commission, hoping that many people with ill-gotten wealth will confess to their crimes to take the advantage of the provision that they will not be punished.
   

According to the ordinance, the commission will exist for only five months but the proceedings it initiates during its tenure will continue until disposal of the cases, said one of the framers of the ordinance.
   

The proposed commission will be composed of a chairman, preferably a retired judge of the Supreme Court, and the two other members will be selected from persons not below the status of a retired major general of the armed forces or a retired secretary to the government, or someone who is widely acknowledged to be an eminent citizen.
   

Persons willing to voluntarily disclose their ill-gotten wealth will be exempted from prosecution and imprisonment, subject to surrendering the property or the corresponding amount of money to the state exchequer, according to the proposed law.
   

The person must apply to the commission for mercy in a prescribed form, giving details of his/her moveable and immovable properties and other information.
   

A person already charged with corruption, or convicted in a case, will not enjoy the benefit of the provision, according to the draft.
   The commission will have the authority to summon any persons believed or found to be involved in corruption on the basis of such disclosures. It will also have the authority to confiscate their ill-gotten wealth.
   

The commission will not generally sentence anyone after disclosure of his/her corruption to any prison term. But violation of the commission’s directives will constitute an offence punishable with imprisonment for a maximum period of five years.
   

Persons disclosing their corruption will be debarred from national or local elections, holding any public office or executive positions in any collective bargaining agencies, associations or banks or financial institutions for five years.
   

The ordinance makes a provision for giving information about others involved in corruption, and the commission can launch an investigation on the basis of the information.
   

The government launched a crackdown on serious crimes and corruption in February 2007 and detained more than 200 high-profile suspects, mostly politicians from the two major parties — the Awami and League Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

Nizami’s release and govt’s dalliance with Jamaat

July 19, 2008

Editorial, NewAge, July 17, 2008

THE release of Jamaat-e-Islami amir Matiur Rahman Nizami on a two-month interim bail in the GATCO case Tuesday evening has raised many eyebrows and, we must add, for justifiable reasons. The offence that Nizami has been accused of having committed is indeed bailable and thus, there is hardly any scope to misconstrue, in any way, the High Court’s decision to grant him bail. What is curious, however, is the decision of the military-controlled government and the Anti-Corruption Commission to not move the Appellate Division for a stay on the High Court’s order, as they have done in the case of Bangladesh Nationalist Party chairperson Khaleda Zia and two other accused in the case. Also, Nizami is the first among ranking politicians to be released on bail since the interim government assumed office in January 2007, although he was the last to be arrested on corruption charges. Overall, his release gives the lie to the interim government’s public posture on war crime and war criminals, and lends credence to the public perception that it has all along treated Jamaat with kid gloves, so to speak, as opposed to iron hand.
   

While the chief adviser and the chief of army staff have severally, and emphatically, enunciated the interim government’s commitment to bringing the perpetrators of war crimes to justice, in reality, it has thus far displayed a soft attitude towards Jamaat, which, needless to say, had been at the forefront of anti-independence activism during the country’s war of liberation in 1971. Nizami’s release could be only the latest manifestation of such an attitude, and one does not have to go very far back to find another precedent. On July 11, a freedom fighter was assaulted at the representatives’ conference of Jatiya Muktijoddha Parishad, supposedly an organisation of freedom fighters which comprises primarily pro-Jamaat elements, in the capital. As reported in the media, the elderly man came under attack for demanding, in his speech to the conference, punishment to the Jamaat men who actively cooperated with the brutal occupation forces of Pakistan during the war of independence in 1971. While there has been a wave of protests against the assault of the veteran freedom fighter and calls for exemplary punishment for the perpetrators since, the government has thus far maintained a cryptic silence over the entire issue.
   

Moreover, Jamaat does not believe in the sovereignty of the people in running the affairs of the state, which is a core principle of democracy, and the interim government’s perceived dalliance with such an unabashedly anti-democratic organisation not only renders its self-professed commitment to improving on democratic governance hollow but also presents the people with a glimpse of its inherently anti-democratic attitude. In the final analysis, here is a government whose constitutional legitimacy in non-existent and democratic credentials are questionable. In such circumstances, the people should have hardly any reason to believe, let alone expect, that the incumbents are either willing or able to positively contribute to the growth and spread of democracy in Bangladesh.

Nizami released on bail, Govt, ACC file no appeals against HC order

July 19, 2008

Cartoon: NewAge

Rule of Law institutions of Bangladesh worship corruption

June 24, 2008

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), June 23, 2008

On Thursday (19 June 2008) the media of Bangladesh reported on a survey conducted by the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB). The survey highlights the rampant corruption in the country. The TIB released its report on the “National Household Survey 2007 on Corruption in Bangladesh” at the National Press Club in Dhaka on Wednesday.

Quoting the TIB the New Age, a national English daily reports, “Petty corruption has increased in some service sectors across the country after the takeover by the army-controlled interim government on January 11, 2007, indicating the pervasiveness of corruption like that of earlier years. The survey, covering 5,000.00 households between July 2006 and June 2007, found that almost 97 per cent of the people had been victims of corruption and 65 per cent had to pay bribes while dealing with law-enforcing agencies.”

The survey conducted only on the public service sectors taking 3,000 rural and 2,000 urban households as samples, did not find any difference in the extent of corruption in the rural and urban setups. The report reveals, “. . . while taking services from the law-enforcers, the households had to pay bribe, on an average, of Taka 10,927.00 (USD 160.00) for avoiding arrest, about Taka 4,000.00 (USD 58.39) for filing First Information Report, Taka 2,605.00 (USD 38.02)for investigation, Taka 1,703.00 (USD 24.86) for accelerating charge sheet and Taka 795.00 (USD 11.60) for General Diary. The volume of nationwide corruption in monetary terms was estimated at Taka 54 billion and 430 million (USD 794,598,540.05), in which the highest share belongs to the land administration with Taka 16 billion and 60 million (USD 234,452,554.74), followed by the law-enforcing agencies with Taka 8 billion and 790 million (USD 128,321,167.88) and the judiciary with Taka 6 billion and 710 million (USD 97,956,204.37)  . . . The average amount of bribes charged by the judiciary is Taka 5,124 in the magistrate’s courts, Taka 5,516 in the judges’ courts, Taka 2,167 in the High Court and Taka 5,840 in special courts . . .”

The survey report of the TIB indicates that the Rule of Law institutions of Bangladesh are plunged into rampant corruption. This report also proves that the so called fight against corruption declared by the military-controlled government during the State of Emergency in the country is merely a propaganda rather than a reality of eradicating corruption.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has documented a large number of individual cases where the police were reported to be compelling the people to pay bribes, and the denial of payment resulted in arrest, detention and fabrication of charges against innocent people. The judges, prosecutors and lawyers have also been found corrupt.

The AHRC urges the authorities and professionals, including the human rights defenders and the civil society of Bangladesh, to unveil the reasons of corruption in the Rule of Law institutions, aiming at a thorough reform of the current dysfunctional system of the country.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Political move by an apolitical govt to depoliticise society

October 6, 2007

Editorial, NewAge, October 6, 2007. Dhaka, Bangladesh

The latest list of corruption suspects, released on Thursday by the Anti-Corruption Commission, reinforces, once again, our long-held suspicion that the much-hyped anti-corruption drive, initiated by the military-driven interim government since its assumption of office, may be part of a political scheme of an apolitical administration to depoliticise society. Previously, in these columns, we have repeatedly pointed out that the anti-corruption drive appears to be an extension of the incumbents’ not-so-overt machination to introduce a ‘new political order’ through deconstruction of the existing political establishments. Right from the word go the anti-corruption drive has primarily targeted the politicians for their supposed involvement in high-profile corruption, although it is common knowledge it is impossible for the political authorities to pull off high-profile corruption without active help of the unscrupulous sections of the bureaucracy and the business community. The lists of corruption suspects that the commission has released thus far are predominantly populated by politicians. The few businesspeople and even fewer bureaucrats, former and serving, who are on these lists, appear to have been implicated for their affiliation with one political party or the other.

The latest list has an added significance, came as it did just over a week after a list of 80 corruption suspects was made available to different media organisations on September 27 and published on September 28. Curiously, there was no official acknowledgement of the list, which is why New Age decided not to publish it. The list, which contained the names of several businesspeople along with politicians and civil servants, nonetheless followed hectic lobbying by the business community, overt and covert. It now seems that the lobbying did work as the latest list of 35, derived from the ‘unofficial list’, contains not a single businessperson and only five bureaucrats. Meanwhile, the law and information adviser to the interim government made public on Wednesday the incumbents’ plan to institute a truth commission, which, according to him, would enable corrupt businessmen to avoid serving jail sentences, if they confess their financial crimes and pay fines as recompense, and which, we believe, would institutionalise the ‘double standards of dealing with similar crimes by the businessmen and the rest of the populace in dissimilar ways.’

Overall, the latest list and the circumstances leading to its announcement lend credence to the prevailing public perception that the incumbents are adamant to use the anti-corruption drive to malign the political class with a view to depoliticising society. Such a ploy will not only defeat the purpose of reasonably containing corruption but also put paid to the people’s aspiration for democratisation of the state and society. The incumbents will be well-advised to abandon the pursuit of such a plan and genuinely try to rid society and the state of corruption.

Proposed truth commission: a travesty of truth and justice

October 5, 2007

Editorial, NewAge, October 5, 2007

The military-driven interim government has now come up with a puzzling idea – the idea of setting up a truth commission as an institutional mechanism through which corrupt businessmen will be able to avoid serving jail sentences, if they confess their financial crimes and pay fines as recompense. The rationale that the law and information adviser, Mainul Hosein, reportedly offered on Wednesday is that the process would help dispel the fears of businessmen, who will now be able to carry on their activities without being ‘hampered’ by anti-corruption drives. While it is of immense importance to remove the environment of fear generated by arbitrary drives, the idea of institutionalising the double standards of dealing with similar crimes by the businessmen and the rest of the populace in dissimilar ways contradicts the central tenet of the rule of law that upholds equality of citizens in the eyes of the law. The principles of the rule of law could never endorse the idea of awarding prison terms to some people, say the politicians, and providing amnesty to others, businessmen in the present case, for similar crimes. Besides, such double standards, if really adopted, would create serious complexities for the perceived commission to address such crimes committed by, say, politicians running businesses, or vice versa.

It has not escaped the public’s notice that the Fakhruddin Ahmed government broke with the judicial norms when it arrested scores of high-profile politicians and businessmen in its first few months in power without specifying the charges against them. Now that the adverse implications, particularly the economic implications, of that arbitrary actions have started surfacing, especially in the form of economic slowdown, the government has perhaps is desperate to manage the situation by way of making legal concessions to the unscrupulous sections of the business community. This is something like one mistake breeding another, and so on and so forth – a way that any prudent administration would always avoid.

The choice of name for the perceived commission seems, on the other hand, to be intended to echo the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was set up in South Africa in 1995. We find it a tragic trivialisation of the spirit and mandate of the historic South African commission, created to reconcile the majority black South Africans with their minority white counterparts, which was the need of the hour to avert a violent civil war. Besides, the essential goal of that process was not so much to grant amnesty to those who committed crimes – as is the case with Bangladesh’s proposed commission – as much as it was to reconcile the two sides in finding the way forward for a post-apartheid democratic South Africa. It must also be recognised that the South African commission, headed by no less than a man called Desmond Tutu, was formed under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, who, again, not only led the anti-apartheid movement but was also elected president before setting up of the commission. As such, there was neither a credibility crisis nor a legitimacy crisis that could undermine the South African commission’s findings in the years to come. Not the same could be said of the truth commission proposed by a government, which is already exposed to legitimacy crisis.

Under this circumstance, we urge the government to abandon the idea of going ahead with a ‘legal’ mechanism which is inherently inconsistent with the democratic value system that does not support the idea of inequality of citizens before the law.

Pitting beneficiaries against benefactors of corruption

October 2, 2007

Editorial, NewAge, October 2, 2007

Three of the seven serving and former bureaucrats, who were part of the cabinet committee on purchase that approved the proposal for awarding a contract to Global Agro Trade Company on container handling at the inland container depot in Dhaka and the Chittagong port and summoned by the Anti-Corruption Commission in connection with the GATCO scam case against former prime minister Khaleda Zia, reportedly came up with identical testimonies to the commission’s investigation committee on Sunday. According to media reports, each of them claimed that ‘higher authorities,’ meaning the political authorities of the day, had approved the proposal for awarding the contract to GATCO. If there were any manipulations by the political authorities in this particular case, the bureaucrats in question, as servants of the republic who are oath-bound to protect national interest, should surely have taken a strong position against the move. They could have had their opposition made public or even step down in protest. However, we are not aware of any bureaucrat taking such a strong position against the GATCO contract. On the contrary, we have seen some of them actually reaping benefits in terms of getting prestigious postings and transfers, multiple contractual appointments after serving out their tenure, etc from their association with the political authorities in question. It is rather unacceptable that the same bureaucrats who let manipulations by the political authorities in the GATCO affair without a semblance of protest should be summoned to testify in the case.

We have to point out though that this is not the first time that the incumbents have employed this tactic in taking their anti-corruption drive to the politicians. The Awami League president, Sheikh Hasina, has also been implicated in a corruption case filed by a person who had supposedly been forced to pay her in order to get a contract when she was the prime minister. Obviously, the complainant of the case was a beneficiary of the underhand dealing that had supposedly taken place. We have maintained all along that whoever is found to have engaged in corrupt practices should be prosecuted and punished in a transparent manner and within the ambit of law. However, in what may well be construed as a unidirectional move to malign politicians, especially Khaleda and Hasina, the incumbents have made a travesty of justice in using those as complainants or witnesses in corruption cases who may have been beneficiaries of the supposed corrupt practices. This is unacceptable.

Corruption of few should not be allowed to malign image of many

September 29, 2007

Editorial: NewAge, September 28, 2007. Dhaka, Bangladesh

The Berlin-based Transparency International has published its latest Corruption Perceptions Index which shows a slight improvement in Bangladesh’s position although the score remained the same, which indicates that despite the apparent improvement the situation remains as bad as before. While a section of society has repeatedly disapproved of the status of, and rejected the conclusion about Bangladesh, economists have questioned the methodology and the process through which the rankings are arrived at. It has also been pointed out that the index is merely an indicator of perception, as opposed to the actual institutional corruption.

We agree that the perception index is hardly an objective indicator of corruption, lacking a robust and rigorous methodology, but at the same time, it cannot be denied that corruption pervades all spheres and levels of public life in Bangladesh. Through the years government offices and public services have become increasingly corrupt. However, it should also be pointed out that corruption in government offices, which is the matter of greatest concern to us, is fuelled to a large part by foreign multinationals, foreign investors and even the international financial institutions.

As for the report of the corruption watchdog, we should regard it no more or less than an indicator of how some sections of the people think about the government as regards corruption. But perception is important too. Regardless of the real situation, countries placed at the top as free of corruption enjoy a better image and will naturally enjoy an advantage in terms of business and commerce.

The perception that naturally arises out of such reports is one that subsequently becomes applied to the entire nation although most of the general people are only victims of this corruption. As such the corruption index should further qualify that it is the ruling sections who are corrupt and not the populace in general. The ruling elites have no right to malign the character of the entire nation either.

The citizens, civil society as well as ruling governments should become more aware of this and gradually strive for more transparency and accountability in public offices as well as bringing about a change in the perception, which is only imposed upon us. But efforts to weed out corruption overnight would naturally result in economic slowdown – as Bangladesh is currently witnessing – in any country in a similar phase of economic transition. There must be a concerted plan to fight corruption and the targets should include businessmen and bureaucrats alike, not just politicians. The drive to eliminate corruption should also focus on the irregularities and illicit deals involving projects of foreign corporations, or those funded by agencies and organisations based in the developed countries, who not only export corruption but in fact encourage it to ensure their commercial interests.

As for the real challenge, which is to rid the system of corruption to a level as may be reasonable in the current context, the military-driven interim government should deal with the matter comprehensively and not target a certain section of the guilty parties.

ACC must carry on fight against corruption, lawfully

September 26, 2007

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.