A multi institutional approach is needed to combat corruption effectively, speakers said yesterday.
They said strengthening the judiciary, National Board of Revenue, Office of the Attorney General, Bangladesh Bank and Anti-Corruption Commission was an urgent necessity to effectively dent on the widespread practice of corruption.
If those institutions can function in a coordinated way, corruption can be reduced significantly, they said, adding that the role of parliament in
prevention of corruption has been overlooked.
The speakers also suggested the ACC focus on some major selective corruption cases for quick completion of the legal process.
The comments came at a seminar styled “Urgent steps necessary to effectively control corruption”, organised by The Daily Star at the newspaper's office in Dhaka.
The digitisation of the administration, establishing of the rule of law and decentralisation of power can reduce the scope of corruption, said Akbar Ali Khan, a former caretaker government adviser.
Khan suggested the ACC reduce the burden of cases.
“Choose only 350 cases on big corruption instead of 3,500 and ensure 100 percent conviction. If you can do it, a precedent will be established. People will get the confidence.”
He suggested for forming a police commission comprising people from different services to monitor the activities of police.
Khan suggested for the parliamentary hearing for the recruitment of judges for the high court and other regulatory bodies and annual evaluation of the judges' performance.
The central bank should look into the scams in the banking sector rather than the ACC, he said.
Khan also said the government should not have so many banks. “The government can have only one bank for its transactions.”
Wherever economic transactions take place, there is corruption, said Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute.
“For example, corruption is rampant in roads and highways, customs, tax administration.
In the power sector, there is a massive corruption. In the implementation of mega projects, big corruption has been taking place, but it is not visible.”
Corruption has also been taking place in the government's social protection spending: nearly 40 to 50 percent of the allocation does not reach the real beneficiaries.
“The scenario of corruption in the banking system is dangerous,” Mansur said, adding that the official amount of non-performing loans in the banking system is Tk 80,000 crore but the real amount is between Tk 120,000 crore and Tk 150,000 crore.
He suggested three ideas to control corruption in the banking system: prosecution, prevention, and automation.
The economist also suggested appointing the ombudsman for establishing more accountability amongst government servants. For instance, in Indonesia, the rate of corruption declined significantly thanks to these measures, he added.
The ACC faces external and internal challenges, said Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of the Transparency International Bangladesh.
The commission gets a proper budget from the government, but in some cases, it seems, the government has influence over the commission. The ACC also suffers from an acute shortage of workforce.
“If the court disposes trial promptly and the National Board of Revenue, the Attorney General Office, and the Bangladesh Bank play their parts strongly alongside the ACC, it would be possible to control corruption more,” Iftekharuzzaman said.
Regarding public procurement, he said politicians consider it an opportunity to make money using the loopholes of the relevant act. “Without genuine political commitment, it is not possible to curb corruption,” he added. For better management of laws, greater accountability is required in every step, said Sultana Kamal, another former caretaker government adviser.
Improving the governance of the banking system is needed, said Syed Mahbubur Rahman, managing director of Dhaka Bank.
The BB in its guideline specifically said the private banks' boards cannot exert any influence in loan disbursement. But, at the same time, the central bank also said in the disbursement of bigger loans the approval from the board is required.
“So, the chief executives of private banks cannot run the banks professionally without the interference of the board,” said Rahman.
As a result, sometimes the loan goes to the wrong people and the bad loans cannot be recovered as the influential people manage stay order from the court for many years, he added.
Instead of punishing the wrongdoers the government has been encouraging corruption through recapitalisation in the name of reviving the troubled banks, said Fahmida Khatun, executive director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue.
“A big chunk of the loans cannot be realised because of the culture of impunity, political influence, and personal greed.”
Previously, irregularities were seen only in the government banks. But now, such widespread irregularities are seen also in the private banks, she added.
Ali Imam Majumder, a former cabinet secretary, also suggested the ACC be selective in the trial of cases with high symbolic value.
Currently, there are 3,500 cases in the ACC and the conviction rate has grown to 68 percent from 53 percent two years ago, said Md Shamsul Arefin, secretary to the ACC.
Mohammad Mohabbat Khan, a former lecturer of the University of Dhaka, suggested overhauling of the whole civil service and encouraging meritorious persons in civil service.
“Do not handle with 3,500 cases, rather take 350 cases and hand over the remaining cases to others,” Khan said.
Hossain Ahmed Mojumder, joint general secretary to the Bangladesh Truck Covered Van Malik Samity, said they are unable to run both passenger buses and essential goods-laden vehicles if they do not have a clear understanding of the logistics of giving rent to the law enforcement agencies.
He went on to mention names of nine entry and exit points of Dhaka where rent-seeking behaviour by law enforcement personnel is rampant.
Md Rustom Ali Khan, executive president of the Bangladesh Sarak Paribahan Malik Samity, echoed the same.
Rustom also said the immediate past inspector general of police gave them 14 agreements that were enforced to curb rent-seeking by law enforcers, but it lapsed in two months.
“If justice is dispensed properly a confidence will grow among the people,” said Mahfuz Anam, editor and publisher of The Daily Star.
A lack of confidence is seen in the society as nothing seems to happen to effectively curb corruption.
“A culture of acceptance towards corruption has created in the society,” he added.
Shahedul Anam Khan, associate editor of The Daily Star, moderated the seminar.