Dr. Kazi S. M. Khasrul Alam Quddusi
The newly appointed Chief Justice, Obaidul Hassan, has recently come out with an observation about corruption, which represents the collective conscience of the nation. He said that corruption pervades the country at all levels like cancer, including the judiciary. He made this statement following the announcement of his appointment. Such a direct comment from such a dignified position gives a clear idea of to what extent corruption has taken root in our society.
His objectivity is remarkable as he candidly remarked that even the judiciary is not free from irregularities. The newly appointed chief justice also talked about the lack of trust in our society, saying that there is a lack of trust everywhere and that there is no sector where people's trust has not been compromised. However, the chief justice further said that despite having a trust deficit in the judiciary as well, people still take recourse to the courts. In fact, there is no alternative either.
As per a research work by Kaunain Rahman, published in the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, corruption in Bangladesh remains endemic. Though the administration adopts a zero-tolerance policy towards corruption, high-profile political actors are allegedly embroiled in various corruption and embezzlement scandals. The readymade garment (RMG) sector is a vital sector of the economy with a serious set of corruption risks, including contracting and procurement fraud, collusion and bribery, among others.
As per the study, the health sector is fraught with corruption and poor governance, and the COVID-19 pandemic has added further stress. Though environmental measures, including climate change adaptation, are crucial to mitigating disaster vulnerabilities, such initiatives are being flawed by irregularities and embezzlement. Moreover, anti-corruption efforts are plagued by politicisation to some extent.
Meanwhile, a study conducted by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) in partnership with the World Economic Forum finds that 64.6% of the respondents think that corruption is the biggest obstacle to doing business in the country as they had to bribe even for tax payments, licenses and utilities. Notably, as per the respondents, the intensity of corruption is such that it surpasses issues such as the liquidity crisis and mounting inflation.
For the study, CPD interviewed some 74 senior officials of 74 enterprises to comprehend their perceptions of the state of business competitiveness, factors and institutions responsible for long-term growth, especially during the post-pandemic period. As per the report, 75% of respondents said bribes are somewhat common in connection with imports and exports, and over 61% said it is common with public utilities. Nearly 59% of the respondents’ said bribery is common when it comes to tax payments. Though corruption remains the most problematic factor for doing business for the majority of enterprises, the severity of its impact has gradually spread to other structural and newly emergent issues.
Public purchases at much higher rates than market prices are quite rampant and hit the headlines at times. In fact, nothing threatens Bangladesh's growth and its sustainability more than corruption. There is corruption at both the lower and higher levels. Lower-level corruption causes harm to a limited extent. However, it is the higher level of corruption that disturbs our present and future greatly.
High-level corruption undermines the purpose of the law, distorts processes, weakens institutions, abolishes the morals of functionaries and endangers our very future. Significant credit is attributed to our prime minister for our current economic growth and, very rightly so. However, things are being blemished by corruption at the higher levels.
Money laundering is an area where the rich and powerful are having a whale of a time. According to the Washington DC-based think tank, Global Financial Integrity (GFI), Bangladesh lost, on average, approximately $8.27 billion every year from 2009 to 2018 due to trade misinvoicing. To the above, if we add the amount for the last five years, the conservative estimate will be an additional $43.5 billion, taking it to a giant total loss of $126 billion.
Unfortunately, however, there has not been any significant investigation into finding out how and when these crimes against Bangladesh occurred. There have not been drastic changes in the laws that can prevent the destructive practice of money laundering. A kind of clemency still remains the order of the day.
Despite the hue and cry in the media, there has not been any attempt at identifying the owners of villas and luxurious homes in Malaysia, Canada, Dubai, Singapore, the UK and the USA, whose wealth must have come from massive money laundering. Thus, corruption thrives in our country without any effective deterrent in its way.
However, who will stem the flow of corruption that has been unleashed by the influential? It is the political leadership who will have to bell the cat. Leniency should make way for strictness, belatedly though. Hope, the much-needed intervention will take place pretty soon. The unabated flow of corruption cannot continue to rob the nation.
All in the upper echelons must come home to the fact that unbridled corruption will destroy the very monolith of the nation, from which none will remain immune. Thus, it is the duty of all, especially in the upper echelons, to take the vow to move and act against corruption within and around themselves. In so doing, integrity will come back to our society. The nation cannot take the evil of corruption any further.
The writer is a Professor, Department of
Public Administration, University of Chittagong.
Email: [email protected]