We may recall that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, at her first meeting (during her third term premiership) with the officials of the Ministry of Public Administration in January 2019, said, “If corruption takes place, action should be taken immediately.” It is needless to say that good governance and corruption-free administration are the basic requirements for a country’s development. For Bangladesh, obviously, it is not only a difficult challenge to ensure, but close to impossible, if we want to pass an unbiased judgement in view of the practicality in Bangladesh.
In November 2020, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen in a meeting disclosed that he was surprised to see the number of government officials who siphoned money to Toronto in Canada, outnumbering the politicians. Perhaps, at that time, he had also indicated to have a list of those people with him. Even, the issue went to the court.This week, the issue has once again made our Parliament hot. Awami League MP Prof Ali Ashraf expressed his displeasure in the on-going budget session while talking about corruption and money laundering situation of the country. Taking part in the general discussion on the supplementary budget for the fiscal year 2020-21 on 6 June, he said that they did not fight in the war of liberation for power, livelihood or any other expectations, but they had fought under the leadership of Bangabandhu to make people smile. He has clearly mentioned that some of the biggest thieves have been identified in the country for whom their heads are bowed down in hatred and shame. He said, “So many big thieves are there, whose names are coming up in public though the Prime Minister and her government have said unequivocally that there is a zero tolerance policy against corruption. We need to take strong action against money launderers.’’ According to the reports published in various local dailies, similar words were also echoed from MPs of other parties, including JP and BNP, while participating in the budget discussion.
In response, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal urged the opposition lawmakers to provide the names of those who had been siphoning off money. He said, “I do not have a list of people involved in money laundering. Provide us the names. If you do so, it will be an easy task to take action against them. I am always against any irregularity, disorder and corruption in any place under any circumstances. We all and our government want these to stop.”
Corruption is not something new in the world, including Bangladesh. People of our country are very much acquainted with the word ‘corruption’ in their normal daily life. We know that corruption is a mechanism for personal gain through abusing power. It is a dishonest practice by a person or organisation to acquire illicit benefit. The social scientists have defined it as a ‘behaviour which deviates from the norms and duties governing the exercise of public role or office for private gains’ and ‘the abuse or misuse of public offices for personal gains.’ People define it as a vice that origins from greed. In Bangladesh, corruption is so deeply rooted in our society which can only be termed as a chronic cancer at the third stage. It needs now immediate chemotherapy, at least to save the country from further deterioration.
Corruption, irrespective of the amount, is deeply rooted in Bangladesh. It is assumed that ninety-nine per cent of the corruption cases occur in the government offices, whether the office is in the capital or in an upazila. However, big-scale corruption normally occurs in government projects according to the size and involvement of fund. Usually it is done in darkness, but sometimes in open air. A person alone cannot do any corruption, what a pick-pocket can do. There must be a chain to follow in any kind of corruption and everyone involved gets his proper share. People in the society know who those persons are, but they have to keep their mouths shut in fear of life. We, the ill-fated members of the society, have no other choice but to live with these corrupted people, who are our neighbours and at the same time, country’s powerful figures either in economic sector, in bureaucracy or in politics.
Corruption and money laundering are very much correlated. Illegal money gathered through corruption (including black money from other sources) is mainly laundered to foreign countries, as one cannot declare, use or invest that money in his country. But there are people who, failing to send money to a foreign country through legal way, find the alternatives, like money laundering. Therefore, like corruption, money laundering is not a new practice in Bangladesh, though the number of money launderers is much less than the number of corrupted people. The easiest way to siphon out money from Bangladesh is done through under- or over-invoicing during export-import dealings. In addition, money is laundered through ‘hundi’ normally by the people who do not have the option of import-export. According to a report of the Global Financial Integrity (GFI), money laundered from Bangladesh per year is about US$7.5 billion on average. For a country like Bangladesh, it is a huge amount. If this money could be invested in Bangladesh, it would lessen the burden of unemployment as well as strengthen country’s economic development. Government is also deprived of getting taxes from this money. Might be money is laundered fearing the question about the legality of possessing that money (being undeclared). Anyway, continuation of laundering of such a huge amount of money every year might, one day, make the country’s economic wheels stand-still. Sometimes, Government allows whitening the black money after paying some extra taxes. But that practice would not decrease the corruption rate in the country at all.
We know, a good number of Bangladeshis have been enjoying visa opportunities under ‘Malaysia, My Second Home’ project and that process involves a lot of money to be deposited with any bank in Malaysia. The money goes there through illegal ways, which is nothing but money laundering. Bangladesh government, particularly our immigration offices at the airports, can easily find out those persons from their Malaysian visa stickers and could ask them how they had sent the money kept in the banks in Malaysia. Money is laundered, similarly, to many other countries, like USA, UK, Canada, Thailand, Singapore, etc. However, it is very easy to say to find out those people, but in practice, I doubt whether it would be done by the government of Bangladesh as there are many persons powerful enough to keep this issue dormant.Our Anti-Corruption Commission, in a recent statement, has said that it has been trying to get detail information about the money launderers from various countries, but the response is not satisfactory. This is fact, whether someone believes or not. Our missions, in such cases, only request the host governments to provide the details of those people. And normally, the host governments rarely respond considering that it is the policy of the banks. Therefore, we need to find out some framework under which we would be able to find out a solution.
Our law-makers, the Hon’ble Members of the Parliament, who have raised their voices in the Parliament, may like to play an important role on both the issues. They may come forward with an initiative that they would clean his or her area from any kind of corruption. They can form a local committee to look after the issue and monitor each and every development to the concerned authority. I can assure that money laundering would decrease to a substantial amount if corruption could be eradicated. However, these efforts should not have any negative impact on local political set-up.
There is no doubt that we must have a policy of zero tolerance against corruption and money laundering, but that is not enough. To bring practically a country’s corruption and money laundering level to zero is a very tough job. With the policy, there must be political will and commitment to have it done. The people and their representatives (like MPs) at different levels must stand beside the government to eradicate corruption from this land through various programmes and manifestations.
On 29 September 1974, during his participation at the UN General Assembly, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman said in a television interview hosted by the National Broadcasting Corporation, “We want to live with dignity. We want to be the disposer of our destiny.” We know it will not be possible to eradicate corruption or stop money laundering so easily and quickly. But we are confident that under the leadership of our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina we would be able to dispose our destiny by eradicating corruption and money laundering from Bangladesh. It would certainly increase our dignity to the world community.
The writer is a former Ambassador