THE government appears to lack in efforts to hold to account people high up the rung when it deals with corruption that plagues government agencies. People higher up in agencies rocked by scams are not even implicated. Such a situation may have given rise to a culture of unaccountability and helped corruption to be pervasive. A number of health-sector scams such as COVID-19 test certificate forgery, substandard N-95 masks supply and the running of health facilities without licence have made the headlines since COVID-19 broke out in Bangladesh in early March. All this reportedly involves government officials, who, along with some sections of politicians and businesspeople, exploited the emergency to make wealth illegally. The illegal agreement between the Directorate General of Health Services and Regent Hospital is one such scam. The agreement allowed Regent Hospital to test COVID-19 samples in government laboratories without fees. But the hospital embezzled Tk 1.37 crore by charging test-seekers and tried to realise Tk 1.96 crore a month in allowance for its staff.
The Anti-Corruption Commission on Wednesday filed a case against Regent Hospital chair, arrested on July 15, and four health services officials over the illegal agreement signed on March 19, having completed all due processes such as hospital visit, report and recommendation submission and the memorandum of understanding in a day. What is worrying is that the commission has dropped the name of the former health services director general who resigned on July 21 amidst criticism apparently on grounds that it did not find his ‘direct involvement’ in the process. The former director general and the health minister, who were photographed holding the memorandum of understanding with Regent Hospital chair on the day as New Age published on Thursday, can in no way shrug off their responsibility for the scam. It is highly unlikely that the high-ups did not know that the agreement was illegal as it was done with a hospital that had an expired licence. And if they did not know, they played insufficiently in their role. They are in either situation responsible for what happened in this and other scams in the sector. Unless ranking officials of an agency are held to account in such cases, corruption is unlikely to stop. The practice of implicating low-level officials is nothing short of scapegoating and rhetorical redressal.
Corruption appears to have been institutionalised in public agencies over the years as the government has never adequately attended to the issue. The government must realise that piecemeal efforts to curb corruption through token punishment of low-level officials will not contain corruption. One and all must be held to account as it is almost impossible for low-level officials to engage in corruption, keeping people higher up in the dark.
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