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Anti-corruption mechanisms in Bangladesh

M. Shamsul Haque, Advocate, Supreme Court, Bangladesh

Corruption is found in almost all countries of the world, but developed countries are less corrupt than the developing world. Corruption in Asia is alarming, not least of all in Bangladesh. The people of Bangladesh nowadays tolerate corruption. They are reluctant to believe that they will ever see a change. On 28 December 2009 the speaker of parliament claimed before the media that “from purchasing pencils to telephone calls?all corruption he found in parliament has been curbed; but he said it is not possible to eliminate corruption in full. In fact, corruption in Bangladesh is considered a way of life that cannot be avoided or eradicated. It has been institutionalized. In every private or public institution corruption is practiced shamelessly. This is why in Transparency International’s rankings Bangladesh has come in with the highest global corruption on several occasions.

How is corruption manifest in Bangladesh?

Corruption is not explicitly definable. It is an illegal act to achieve wrongful gain. According to one author, it is the destruction of integrity in the discharge of public duties. It has also been defined as misuse of public power for private profit. Undue privilege, nepotism and favoritism are all types of corruption.

Lack of accountability makes corruption easily and frequently exercised in Bangladesh. Greed, self interest, the wish to be rich without doing anything, the high ambition of less-qualified persons, and avarice are the main causes. Persons in power who are responsible for good governance and keeping the organs of state and the society free from corruption are themselves mostly greedy, selfish, corrupt and incompetent. This is why it is really difficult to combat or eliminate corruption. If a police officer, public servant or judicial officer is recruited through payment of money or other illegal gratification, how can that officer or employee be expected to render honest service to the nation?

There are certain government establishments where the simple transfer of an employee from one place to another reportedly needs large sums of money to be given to a higher authority. It is also known that every subordinate officer gives a fixed amount to his higher authority as a share of bribery, especially in the police department. So, honest officers cannot maintain their honesty.

Nepotism and favouritism are also common. In almost every institution the nearest relatives of party men or people from the party’s area are being employed or given benefits, regardless of competency or rules and procedure; even the appointment of High Court judges sometimes proceeds in a similar way.

A recent survey carried out by the Bangladesh Unnayan Parishad found that the police were the most corrupt department in the land, followed very closely by customs, the department of excise and taxation, the bureaucracy and the judiciary. This survey shows that the primary responsibility for corruption in Bangladesh lay in the hands of government officials. The survey broadly corresponds with the findings of Transparency International, in which the police and then judiciary have been found to be the most corrupt.

A look at the judiciary

Some bench officers of the High Court Division take bribes from 500 to 15,000 taka just to push cases up the queue on the daily cause lists. Everybody working in the courts knows it but no one resists it. After cases are posted in the daily cause list of the High Court Division normally a case will not be produced before a judge if 200-300 taka are not given to the custodian of the files. Some High Court judges are accused of being selective in the lawyers to whose clients they grant relief; some lawyers take contingent fees, giving surety or assurance for enlargement of bail, and a good number have pet brokers who collect cases and take portions of the lawyer’s fees.

After filing for a writ or criminal motion a lawyer must wait sometimes for three, seven or 15 days to get the matters heard, but if the lawyer gives some bribe to the bench officer it can be heard on the same day, and if the amount is a bit high then it may be heard then and there. (Of course there are certain benches where no such business is found, and matters are heard according to their serial numbers.) Similarly, another difficulty is to procure the certified copy of a judgment or order. After a judge signs a verdict or order it will take couple of months to reach the file in the copying department, but one can hurry it by giving bribes to the concerned tables.

The reconstitution of High Court benches causes a lot of suffering for litigants. There are no specific rules or procedures, so far as I know, to reconstitute benches, and it is the sole and absolute power of the chief justice. Before changing or reconstituting benches no prior notice is given, as a result of which suffering is caused to litigants. Those matters that are posted at the bottom of the daily cause list cannot be heard because before reaching the matters for hearing the court is dismantled, and these matters must be re-fixed for hearing. Dishonest bench officers get opportunities to earn money on the plea to keep a matter at the top of the list to prevent it being pushed back to a latter date. In the early days the benches were reconstituted once or twice in a year. The frequent changes in courts allow personnel to indulge in corruption and also serve dark political interests. There should be a committee and rules framed in this regard. 

The lower judiciary of Bangladesh has earned a very bad name and lost the confidence of litigants. From the magistracy to additional district and sessions judge level, most judicial officers are reported to have taken bribes (no doubt there are a few honest judges) and this corruption should be stopped immediately. If necessary, the High Court may frame rules and appoint vigilant teams in every district to monitor judicial officers. The elected members of Bar Associations who are meant to see and address the impediments and problems facing the smooth administration of justice daily are obviously busy doing things for their own benefit, and most of them have entered into a competition to see how they can be nearer to the chief of the ruling political party or the chief of the opposition party.

Prosecutions are also run in a highly politicized and corrupt manner. Under section 494 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Ministry of Home may withdraw any criminal case from prosecution with the permission of the court, either in part or as a whole. What is the result in the present day? The party in power sometimes withdraws gruesome murder cases because the accused person belongs to the ruling party. The party in opposition shouts that the cases pending against the ruling party are being withdrawn but not those cases filed against their own party men. Sometimes cases are withdrawn for payment of cash.

People's hard earned money lavishly used

Bangladesh is a poor country but from looking at the facilities awarded to parliamentarians, high officials and senior government officers nobody would think so. Tax-free prestigious cars, allocations of land in the capital city, concession air tickets and other benefits are among a few of the things given to those persons on the pretext that they are the people’s representatives or public servants. This so-called lawful corruption can only be curbed if the good conscience of the beneficiaries is knocked.

Eminent lawyers, journalists, important businesspersons and elected office bearers of the Bar Association, Chamber of Commerce and other non-governmental organizations engage in another type of corrupt practice. They use their high profiles and social positions to take benefits from their respective professional fields, even if not through open bribery. Sadly there are no avenues through which to raise objections against these misdeeds.

The elimination of corruption

Surprisingly enough there are several laws still in force in Bangladesh to prevent corruption, such as the Anti-Corruption Commission Act, 2004; Money Laundering Act, 2002; Bangladesh Government Servants (Conduct) Rules, 1979; Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1958; Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947; some sections of the Income Tax Ordinance, 1984 and some sections of the Penal Code. Not only are these laws in force but also there are some special courts and tribunals to try corruption cases. So why have these been ineffective and what can be done about it?

No doubt, it is difficult to eliminate corruption completely from Bangladesh; but the first and most important thing is that people shall have the willingness, intention and zeal to eliminate it, and to take pragmatic steps, such as the following.

Make a corruption-free family
Build a family that does not believe in corruption. The earning members of a family especially should have honesty and transparency in respect of their lawful incomes. The family head should take responsibility to ensure that none of his or her family members earn more than deserved according to qualification and post.

Honest politicians
Corruption can never be eliminated until people holding state power want to deal with it. We know that state power is exercised and regulated by politicians. The degeneration of politics breeds dishonest politicians. So to eliminate corruption, greedy and dishonest politicians must be eliminated. Honesty, integrity, dedication, nobility and patriotism must be the qualifications of political leaders. A political leader must have determination to do something for the betterment of the citizenry. Dishonest and corrupt leaders should always be avoided, deprecated and boycotted. But the fact remains that the political process, system and environment in Bangladesh is not friendly towards honest practices.

Religious values and prescriptions should be honestly exercised and regarded
Eighty-seven per cent of Bangladesh belongs to the Muslim community. Islam does not permit corruption and dishonesty. Most people of Bangladesh seem to be pious; they say their prayers five times a day. Islam emphases ‘Halal Ruzi? that is, honest livelihood, so corruption is not befitting to persons who want to comply with their religious beliefs.

Lack of proper implementation of laws and non-accountability of public servants
Public servants in Bangladesh are not accountable and as such, corrupt officials remain untouched after accumulating huge amounts of money. Every government servant is expected to submit an annual return of his or her assets to the government in December, but evidence of this practice is hard to find. Rather, the evidence is of corrupt practices, such as the building of houses in Dhaka City by government officers and employees whose official incomes are modest. Their children are getting higher education abroad. Where does this money come from? This question is never put to them. I firmly believe that if only the Government Servant (Conduct) Rules, 1979 was followed strictly then approximately 75 per cent of government employees?corruption could be eliminated.

In short, to eliminate corruption a system must be developed which will not be friendly to corruption. Absolute power and a lack of accountability make plenty of scope for corruption. To address it, whoever’s assets and wealth have been acquired by way of corruption or misappropriation should be confiscated by the state. Furthermore, incompetent and corrupt officials must be removed from key posts, to create an atmosphere in which it might be possible to rehabilitate honest and competent persons to run the polity with a view to ensure democracy and the rule of law.

The people of Bangladesh want to give up their pessimistic ideas and views, and they are eager to see the introduction of new measures to eliminate corruption. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has emphasised her determination to eliminate corruption from Bangladesh. We do hope that in the near future we will see this objective realised.

Posted on 2010-03-29

Asian Legal Resource Centre
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