Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has expressed her views on “zero-tolerance against corruption” in a recent virtual meeting with the government secretaries (top government officials). She warned the corrupt government officials several times since she assumed the office for the third time in a row. Terming corruption a “social disease”, she gave a straightforward set of instructions to the secretaries and asked them to deal with corruption very seriously and take stern actions against the corrupt officials in all the departments/sectors or ministries. She also said that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) was given a very clear message in this regard, and any sort of corruption would not be tolerated. But only the PM’s utterances would not bring about any positive change if the executive body of the state – especially bureaucracy – is not serious about and sincere in removing or curbing corruption. In fact, a strong political will is imperative to wage an all-out war against corruption. Besides, bureaucracy must be free from politicization, nepotism and cronyism. Otherwise, zero-tolerance will end up a zero-sum game!
In January 2019, it was reported that Bangladesh ranked 3rd among the world’s top countries with the fastest millionaire population growth. Besides, the country has the world’s third highest income inequality between the rich and the 20 million extreme poor. According to a survey conducted by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), inequality in the country is at an all-time high. The survey was conducted before the spread of coronavirus (March 2020). However, this trend raised questions and concerns about the quality of the country’s much-talked-about GDP growth (7 or 8 per cent) because the high GDP growth over the past few years (before Covid-19 pandemic) failed to create jobs on a large scale. Consequently, the country is experiencing a phase of jobless growth. The reason behind income disparity between the rich and the poor was correctly identified by the former lead economist of World Bank’s Dhaka office, Dr Zahid Hussain. And one of the major reasons clearly identified is unbridled corruption. He said, “Using public office for private gains is something the poor are never in a position to engage in and benefit from.”
Unfortunately the government seems reluctant to formulate an effective policy to take stern actions against the loan defaulters (by choice) though defaulted loans in different banks keep on soaring. Even some of the defaulters have already fled and started living in Canada, Australia and some other countries (known as their second home). A couple of years back, the High Court gave an observation saying that the country’s banking sector is no longer business-friendly; rather, banks have become organizations of usurers. The High Court suggested that Bangladesh Bank, as a regulatory body, should act independently and exercise its autonomy in bringing the defaulters to book and establishing good governance in banking sector immediately. Besides, the government should not interfere in Bangladesh Bank’s policy making mechanism.
The Sheikh Hasina government is really struggling to rein in corruption in almost all the sectors during Covid-19 pandemic because the state machinery lacks good governance and accountability. Of course, a truly functional democracy is the key to establishing good governance in the country. The current “development paradox” will not help the government to ensure decent living for all citizens and to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. We hope the government will sustain its zero-tolerance policy on corruption that is crippling many good efforts. If the government holds back due to any sort of unwanted political or bureaucratic pressure, the citizens will certainly lose confidence in the government institutions. And the current move “zero-tolerance against corruption” would be abortive.
The writer is the chair and associate professor, Department of English, Stamford University Bangladesh.
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