WHAT the Anti-Corruption Commission chair says, and it is thoughtful of him to have so done at a seminar in Dhaka on Saturday, that the commission faces a crisis of public trust as 70 per cent of the steps it took have been against people involved in petty corruption only adds to the already growing public perception that has already been there. The prime minister is also reported to have made a similar statement in the parliament on June 12 that the public perception about many of the Anti-Corruption Commission employees being involved in corruption is not totally baseless. The prime minister that time then sounded a wake-up call for the commission saying that it would have to be conscious about the commission’s employees so that they could not engage themselves in activities that create such a public perception. But in the seminar on the role of the judiciary and lawyers in corruption prevention, the commission’s chair talks of some shortcomings that are worrying and, therefore, warrant the institutional strengthening of the commission. He seeks to say that netting in suspects of grand corruption is difficult as the commission does not want to tread back on the initiatives it takes. Such fears of the commission only point to its structural weakness.
The commission’s chair also says that the commission, which has no more than 300 investigators, finds it difficult to have a deputy assistant director carry out an investigation against a secretary. He also questions the skills of the officers saying that he has no answer if someone asks him how many skilled officers the commission has. And this, as he says, leaves almost every report submitted by the investigators flawed. He also questions the punctuality of the investigators as no investigation is done in time and if the commission needs to take action against errant officers, it may need to take action against all of them. As for going after small fry, leaving big fishes getting away, he gives an explanation by way of the commission’s philosophy that four-fifths of corruption victims, in the hands of people involved in petty corruption, live in rural areas. The commission has already faced controversy because of its putting up a partisan political face, the punishment, major and minor, that it has meted out to its own officers and employees who were errant and the recent incident of bribery involving a commission’s director and a police official. While corruption must end as it impedes development, has financial costs and causes costs to society, the commission seems to be failing to understand that it is as much important to go tough on grand corruption, such as the one that involved the BASIC Bank scam, as it is to end petty corruption. It is easy for grand corruption to beget petty corruption in society and grand corruption has a far greater negative impact.
If the commission fails to arrest grand corruption, or political corruption that is, it is unlikely that it could end corruption at all. The state of affairs in the Anti-Corruption Commission, thus, reeks of a weakening accountability and, largely, a deficit in the independence of the institution. Hopes will be all lost if the guards cannot guard themselves. It is time the commission proved itself.
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