Corruption: name of a fear and reality

Tasmiah Nuhiya Ahmed | Updated at 12:04am on September 13, 2018


I HAVE heard a story of a leader of this country, who has been an inspiration to many people during his lifetime and has been the same till date even after his death, which took place back in 1975.
‘My greatest strength is the love for my people, my greatest weakness is that I love them too much’ — this is one of my favourite quotations which I usually refer to when I talk about him. I am sure many of you have guessed already whom I am talking about. He is none other than Bangladesh’s founding president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, whose contribution to the birth history of Bangladesh is not unknown to anyone.
Now, let us get back to the story. Once a farmer went to Sheikh Mujib’s hosue with some vegetables of his own field, the caretaker of the house informed Sheikh Mujib about the farmer while he was busy with some phone conversation. He gave Tk 20 to the caretaker, asking him to give this money to the farmer for the vegetables. The caretaker then thought of keeping Tk 10 for his own and giving the rest to the farmer. The farmer after getting the money came to Sheikh Mujib and told him that he does not want the money for the vegetables. He returned him the money. Sheikh Mujib was surprised to see that the farmer got only a half of what he had given for him to the caretaker. He got upset and told that if this is what the people of this country do when they get money, how the money allocated for serving people in the national budget of the country can actually reach people!
I find these words are being reflected in the headlines of almost all the newspapers of this country on August 31 which says that the law enforcement agencies were the most corrupt among 18 departments and sectors in providing services in 2017. The data come from a survey report of the Transparency International, Bangladesh. The survey was titled ‘Corruption in Service Sector: National Household Survey 2017’. With this report, it has now published the eighth report after the last one done in 2015. The sectors surveyed include law enforcement, passport, the Road Transport Authority, the judiciary, land, education, health services, gas, local government, tax and duty, banking, agriculture, non-governmental organisations, insurance, power, the Election Commission, posts and the Water Supply and Sewerage Authority.
This TIB report suggests that passport offices and the Road Transport Authority were the second and third most corrupt service-oriented entities. According to the report, in 2017, the overall 66.5 per cent people are victims of corruption in the services sector. Of them, the highest of 72.5 per cent corruption took place in law enforcement agencies, 67.3 per cent in passport offices and 65.4 per cent in the Road Transport Authority. It said that ordinary people were forced to pay Tk 5,930 bribe a household in 2017 and the three highest bribe-collecting sectors were gas (Tk 33,805), judicial services (Tk 16,314) and insurance sector (Tk 14,886). The rate of corruption in the judiciary was 60.5 per cent, in land 44.9 per cent, in education 42.9 per cent and in health services 42.5 per cent. The amount of exchanged bribe nationwide in 2017 was Tk 1,06,889 million, which was 3.4 per cent of the national budget (revised) of the 2016–17 financial year and 0.5 per cent of the national gross domestic product. The amount of per head bribe was TK 658 in 2017; which was Tk 533 in 2015. TIB also said that corruption increased in 2017 as notable way than 2015 in some sectors (such as gas, agriculture, BRTA, judicial service) sand in some sectors corruption decreased like education, passport and local government divisions.
In the 2015 index, passport championed both in corruption and bribery and law enforcement agencies ranked second. The perception of not receiving service without paying illegal money has worsened in two years’ time from about 71 per cent in 2015 to 89 per cent in 2017. The TIB report mentioned that 89 per cent household of the bribe payee showed reason for paying bribe as ‘service is not available if bribe not paid’— that means bribe collection is institutionalised. The TIB report also says that the rate of corruption and bribery is higher in rural areas than in urban areas, and people without or limited access to institutional education are more vulnerable in this regard. Households in poverty, having an income of less than Tk 16,000 (2.41 per cent of their total annual earnings) are more likely to become victims of corruption. The survey showed that poor people fall prey to corruption 20 times more than the well-off. About 77 per cent in agriculture and fish farming became victims of corruption while 63 per cent of them pay bribes followed by fishermen and transport workers. Youths are the less victims of corruption (33 per cent) compared with those in the 55–64 age bracket (46 per cent).
The executive director of the Transparency International, Bangladesh said that the overall scenario of corruption is alarming. He further said that the latest move by the Anti-Corruption Commission is rather frustrating and added that the law passed in the cabinet regarding the hierarchy’s permission prior to grilling any government official is unacceptable. The government finalised the draft of the Bangladesh Civil Services Act 2017 keeping a provision stating that law enforcers will not be permitted to directly arrest any government official or employee accused of negligence in duty, graft or wrongdoing at work, or sued in a criminal case until a charge-sheet against him or her is accepted at court. In this regard, the TIB said long ago that despite the provisions of Article 197 (1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the provisions for the government’s permission to arrest before filing a charge and a case against an officer and employee on duty is discriminatory and contrary to the constitution. However, this new bill has been approved by the cabinet ignoring the recommendations of civil society bodies.
We are headed towards the 11th parliamentary elections and we hope that corruption, which I refer as the biggest enemy of democracy, shall be uprooted from the soil of our beloved motherland with more efficiency. We do not want to live in a corrupted world and that should get due consideration while we are choosing whom to vote for in the next election.

Tasmiah Nuhiya Ahmed is executive editor of the New York Times – Bangladesh national section.