Zero tolerance against corruption: Who will bell the cat?

Vijaya Laxmi Tripura

General Secretary of the ruling Awami League in Bangladesh has said, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will unveil her government’s firm stance against corruption, terrorism and drugs.

He said, “Our prime minister will reiterate her government’s zero tolerance policy against indulgence in corruption, terrorism and drugs. She will also call upon her party’s rank and file to stay away from these in the rally.”

While talking to reporters at the party president’s Dhanmondi office in Dhaka, Quader said, “Our prime minister will come up with an important message, warning her party men to refrain from abusing power”.

Earlier, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reaffirming her government’s tough stance against corruption directed the public administration ministry to issue a strong warning against graft by field-level administrations.

The PM wondered why there would be corruption even after significantly enhancing the salaries, allowances and other privileges of public servants. “They [public servants] must change their mindset.”

She emphasized ensuring good governance and building a corruption-free administration for achieving the government’s goal to take the benefits of development to the doorsteps of common people.

Aspiration in Prime Minister’s initiative:

There is possibly no doubt about Sheikh Hasina being one of the cleanest politicians in the world, who does not face any allegations of corruption. Instead, according to inner-circle of the Prime Minister, she personally is against corruption. But unfortunately, she is being surrounded by corrupts while the administration in the country including lower judiciary are indulged into massive corruption. The anti-graft body, Anti Corruption Commission has practically turned totally inactive if not intentionally inefficient in combating corruption. Those corrupt individuals in the administration almost openly boast of being untouchable or terming Anti Corruption Commission as a “manageable” institution, which would drop corruption allegations brought against anyone in exchange of bribe. When the Anti Corruption Commission itself is accused of receiving bribes, how the people of Bangladesh can expect a real drive against corruption?

Billions of dollars drained-out from Bangladesh:

Awami League is in power since 2009 and according 2017 report of Global Financial Integrity (GFI), over US$ 61.63 billion has been drained out of Bangladesh thus ending in several countries in the world, including United Kingdom, Malaysia, Canada, United Arab Emirates, United States, Australia etc during 2007-2017. The GFI report also revealed that illicit capital flight from Bangladesh was on a higher trend from 2007 following political turmoil of the time, and it continued until 2013 when the highest $9.66 billion was siphoned off. Alone in 2014, US$ 6-9 billion had been smuggled out by various individuals, including several influential political figures in Bangladesh.

There are allegations against dozens of “leaders” of the youth and even student front of the ruling party of smuggling-out millions of dollars of their corruption or ill-gotten money. Some of the student leaders even are known as billionaires. There is serious allegation of corruption against a mid-ranking leader of Jubo League whose name starts with “I”, who reportedly has made at least US$ 50 million dollars during past ten years. There had also been allegations of massive corruption against several members of the recent past cabinet.

The infamous Begum Para in Canada:

According to The Daily Star report, a number of leaders of both the Awami League and the BNP — from the central level to associate student bodies of the two parties — are learned to have secured their future overseas, by winning citizenship for their families through investment visas or business migration schemes.

A leader of Awami League central committee, seeking anonymity told Daily Star, “Many politicians — from top to mid level — have invested in properties abroad. They have made the investments in the names of their wives and children.”

An influential AL leader has allegedly bought a mansion in Canada. Another leader of the party, who holds the position of a state minister, has invested in properties in London and Malaysia. There are other AL men who did the same, said party insiders and immigration consultants.

Not only ruling party leaders, a number of BNP leaders have also made investments abroad.

A minister of the last BNP-led government has made considerable investments in Singapore. The BNP leader and his family spent most of the last six years there.

Sources close to him told The Daily Star that his son invested in a private port in Sri Lanka.

Another former minister of the party and his son have made sizeable investments in properties in the US.

Such properties are bought mostly with ill-gotten money, which is being

siphoned off from Bangladesh through unauthorized financial channels such as hundi to countries that openly offer fast immigration opportunities through investment.

Canada, followed by Malaysia, is by far the top choice of these leaders. An area in Toronto is known as “Begum Para” among expatriate Bangladeshis there. Begums (wives) live with their children there and the husbands run political activities and businesses in Bangladesh.

According to Bangladesh High Commission in Canada, more than one lakh Bangladeshis now live there. Canadian government statistics show that the number of Bangladeshi immigrants was 33,230 till 2006.

It means around 70 percent of these Bangladeshis left for Canada in the last 10 years to settle there as entrepreneurs or family class and independent immigrants.

Opening up a firm, which requires only around Taka 300,000 (US$ 3,529), could guarantee a person a Malaysian visa for one year. Upon making some investments, he could obtain a five-year visa, which could be extended to 10 years, said the Bangladeshi.

Using similar methods, many Bangladeshis, including politicians, have invested and bought second homes in the USA, the UK, Australia, the UAE, Singapore and New Zealand.

According to newspaper report, the number of Bangladeshi-born immigrants in Canada has been increasing very fast. It evidently proves, corrupt individuals are finding Canada as one of the best destination of their ill-gotten money.

Who will bell the cat?

When Bangladesh’s anti-graft body itself is accused of being indulged into corruption, how Prime Minister’s war on corruption would finally be successful? Who will bring those influential politicians and bureaucrats (former and on service) into account for making huge sum of money through corruption?

If Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina sincere about combating corruption, she first of all needs to grant absolute sovereignty to the Anti Corruption Commission and let this anti-graft body be free from any interference from the government. On the other hand, there should be investigation against few of the members of ACC itself along with the attorneys of this organization.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s anti-corruption drive will get people’s support only if she can ruthlessly push forward this mission and send some high-profile corrupts into jail immediately after her declaring war against corruption. Intelligence agencies in the country should also be involved in the investigation process of the Anti Corruption Commission to ensure, allegations of corruption do not go into black-hole because of some corrupt individuals right inside the ACC. Media should also play vital role by exposing corruption of various individuals through investigative report. Such exposures will greatly help the authorities concerned in nabbing the corrupt individuals much easily.

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