By corruption is meant bribery, nepotism, misuse of public money for private gains and other such offences. Corruption arises from moral deterioration. It breeds in society in the open and concealed forms.
It is born out of unholy wedlock between the bribe taker and bribe giver. Apart from the offer of money for immediate gains, corruption involves offer and reward at a later date, generally in an indirect form.
Bangladesh has scored 26 on a scale of 0-100 according to Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2017 released by Transparency International (TI) on February 22, 2018. The score is two points higher than that of 2016. Counting from the top we are at the 143rd position among 180 countries surveyed which is also an improvement by two points from 2016. In 2016, Bangladesh stood at the 145th among 176 countries surveyed. Notwithstanding this upward movement, Bangladesh remains well below the global average of 43 which is considered an indicator of moderate success in controlling corruption. Moreover, among the eight South Asian Countries, we continue to be second worst only after Afghanistan. As in several recent years, Bhutan has performed best in south Asia with a score of 67 and ranked 26th from top in the global list, followed by India ranked at 81 scoring 40, Sri Lanka at 91 scoring 38 and Pakistan at 117 with 32.
The above narrative bears testimony that corruption in Bangladesh poses huge challenges against development and social transformation. There is a serious concern in all circles about the ever-expanding paws of corruption. It appears to have been almost all pervasive, infiltrating into even such areas where it was almost unknown. We shudder at the extent to which corruption is reported by TIB and the press to have spread and started eating into the vitals of economy. According to TIB, people in general think that the administration is riddled with corruption and its accountability is more to the political party in power than to the people. There is a widespread impression that bribe and political influence are the two key means for acquisition of any profitable work including tender and for pecuniary gains. Politicisation of corruption is making the situation worse, making corruption more difficult to control.
Corruption indeed remains a major problem. Despite some negligible improvements the challenge has been aggravating, being relatively acute in Bangladesh. To recall, Bangladesh was earlier placed at the bottom of the list for successive five years from 2001-2005. In the eleven years since 2006, its score and ranking have been improving unsteadily and at snail’s pace and remains far below the achievable level. Now, one could raise a pertinent question as to how Bangladesh experiences one of the highest growth rates despite being beset with the alarming state of corruption. How it is possible if corruption is as high as TIB says? The simple answer is: A country can, and does grow in spite of the worst form of corruption. Bangladesh has indeed been maintaining high rates of growth of GDP in the range of 6-7 per cent annually almost for two decades. Now the question is whether we could have achieved more. There are irrefutable reasons to believe that subject to effective corruption control, double digit growth is well within Bangladesh’s reach. We could have achieved at least 2-3 per cent higher annual growth if corruption could be moderately controlled. This is according to credible researches and referred to by our honourable finance minister.
The other dimension of the cost of corruption is that while its burden falls upon everyone, it is substantially higher for households in lower income category than those with higher income. Corruption has an inbuilt bias against the poor and the disadvantaged section of the society. They are directly affected by increased cost of public services for bribery and limited or even lack of access to services because their lack of capacity to pay bribe.
Corruption causes underperformance in governance and undermines the government’s ability to deliver. It generates a sense of disillusionment among people which in turn leads to accepting corruption as a way of life and causes erosion of values and ethics. It is a crime that cripples social cohesion, political stability and socio- economic progress. Corruption feeds in to zero-sum game of politics, especially when office of politics and government are viewed as a mandate to enjoy personal benefits and enrichment.Grabbing of land, forest, river and water bodies as well as perennial loan default and other forms of plunder in banking and financial sector have been patronised by the powerful groups of our society. Bribery is being declared as “speed money’ not corruption, while collecting bribe within certain limits is encouraged. Unauthorised payment of public services has become the order of the day. The opportunity to legalise black money has continued to make corruption a rewarding practice.
Corruption control is difficult, though not impossible. In our estimate there are some interrelated elements of an effective corruption control strategy. Corruption control must be at the core of agenda of the mainstream political parties and of the government. This commitment to prevent corruption is not enough to be only in papers or words. It must be enforced without fear or favour and irrespective of the identity and status of person. The corrupt must be punished in the due process of law. When any crime remains unpunished and when the criminals, in this case the corrupt, are allowed to get away and enjoy political patronage it is only that the menace will flourish further. Corruption will never be controlled if the corrupt, especially those have links with political or other powerful quarters, instead of being subjected to accountability, enjoy impunity.
The constitutional bodies must be able to function independently and effectively as mandated by law. The collective integrity strength of the Anti-corruption Commission (ACC), Parliament, judiciary, law enforcement agencies, Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) and civil society holds the key to rule of law and corruption control. If the neutrality, integrity of these institutions are compromised or if they themselves tend to be used for promoting partisan political agenda of the ruling authority, corruption will no doubt escalate.
It is equally important that people stand up against corruption. A robust people engagement, especially youth engagement is enormously important to fight corruption. This engagement can also lead to increased moral and political obligation of the ACC and other stakeholders to be responsive and take firm action against corruption. Also importantly, a congenial environment must be nourished for media and civil society to strengthen the demand for accountability of all organs of the state. The more is the space for media and civil society, the better the scope of effective curbing of corruption.
The writer is a retired Deputy General Manager, BSCIC, Khulna. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org