The era of globalization witnessed concerted anti-corruption efforts to promote political reforms by reducing the costs of corruption, which has become a major governance issue nowadays. This effort has been particularly directed at developing countries like Bangladesh undergoing economic restructuring and democratic change. In recent years particularly since 1990s, political corruption – the misuse of public office or public responsibility for private (personal or sectional) gain – has been an important theme of the neo-liberal policies of adjustment, donor conditionality and governance reforms. Having identified the state as ‘the problem’, and liberalization and ‘good governance’ as ‘the solution’ to that problem, it was inevitable that efforts to eradicate and control the widespread corruption characterizing post-independence Bangladesh got high priority. From the outset, proponents of governance reform i.e. the donors linked political corruption to the explanation of developmental failure, thereby identifying the arguments for democratization and ‘good governance’ with those for liberalization.
Bangladesh in South Asia inherited an elitist and centralized public administration – first from the British in 1947 when it became part of a united Pakistan, and then from Pakistan in 1971 (Islam, 2005). Attempts to run the public administration and governance system along democratic lines in Bangladesh have been thwarted by a number of military interventions since 1975. Today, Bangladeshi government has embarked on public sector reforms of various kinds, engaging in rhetoric that resonates with global paradigms of ‘new public management’ (NPM) and ‘good governance’. There are different areas of public sector reforms particularly connected to improving governance system called ‘governance reforms’. The governance reforms respond to different challenges so are they motivated by different concerns and results in different outcomes. Thus, the ‘old’ public administration regime has largely coexisted with the ‘new’ public management approaches and tools. Apart from economic and fiscal pressures from western donor agencies, there have also been domestic political changes, including regime changes, which have resulted in a new articulation of governance, and have helped shape the new institutional arrangements. The influence of national administrative traditions, such as the British colonial legacy, should also be taken into account in the context of Bangladesh.
The weak bargaining position of Bangladesh, where debt, poverty and underdevelopment make the country dependent on international aid donors, has led to a variety of direct, unsubtle pressures to force the state to undertake ‘governance’ reforms. While many of these measures address important problems undermining development, the donors sometimes have deficiency of proper understanding of the nature of corruption as a problem in two important ways. First, the donors frequently prescribe rules and norms of proper public behavior, developed for and within the Western world regardless of the recipient country’s unique conditions. And, second, they threaten the autonomy of the recipient government to make decisions and draw long-term plans.
There has been a recent trend for Bangladeshi government since early 2002 to establish anti-corruption commission – distinct, national agencies charged with combating corruption. The donors have all promoted the establishment of such bodies, claiming that they form an integral part of a country’s “national integrity system.” The recent United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCA) also makes specific provision for their establishment. However, the experience of anti-corruption commission is mixed, and it often attracts criticism for being ineffective and a waste of resources. The question remains whether this agency represents a genuine commitment on the part of a government in its anti-corruption strategy, or whether they are merely a façade, established to simply placate the international donors. Thus, this paper explores the way in which corruption has been understood in the ‘governance’ agenda and the efforts that have been made to control it by improving institutional performance and policing for greater transparency and accountability in Bangladesh. Therefore, the formation and role of the ACC will also be critically discussed in this paper.
Despite the aid regime’s recent shift to new areas of interest in Bangladesh, the impact of the new governance agenda through anti-corruption efforts on the political economy of Bangladesh have hardly been subjected to any comprehensive analysis. The publication of two landmark books on foreign aid pertaining to Bangladesh should be noted here: The Crisis of External Dependence: the Political Economy of Foreign Aid to Bangladesh (Sobhan, 1982) and Revisiting Foreign Aid: An Independent Review of Bangladesh’s Development (Sobhan, 2003), both the books are written by Professor Rehman Sobhan. The publication of a well-known book in Bangladesh titled ‘Towards Good Governance in Bangladesh: Fifty Unpleasant Essays’ written by Kamal Siddiqui (1996) should also be mentioned here. These books mostly deal with internal dynamics of several general issues such government, politics as well as civil bureaucracy and problems of particular organizations and sectors, in order to ensure good governance.
There is still the need for a fresh look at novel issues with regard to the governance reforms through anti-corruption efforts by establishing ACC as a new approach of development aid towards recipient countries like Bangladesh. It is an appropriate time for both the foreign aid donors and recipients to take stock of the foreign aid experience and anti-corruption measures. The Centre for Policy Dialogue published an independent review of Bangladesh’s development in 2003 (Sobhan, 2003), which also captured the issue of foreign aid and corruption issues in Bangladesh.
Due to rampant corruption in many institutions and many forms of economic transactions, the socio-economic, political and administrative development of Bangladesh has been severely impeded. This has been noted by Zafarullah and Huque (2001), who have identified several problem areas in governance and public management in South Asian Countries like Bangladesh. They include (i) bureaucratic dominance (ii) generalist specialist conflicts (iii) fragmented civil service structures (iv) conflict between merit and equity (v) tension between professionalism and political patronage (vi) a widening gap between the people and the administration and (vii) problems of administrative ethics. Aminuzzaman (1996) also said that aspirations to create a transparent and sound system of governance have suffered numerous setbacks in Bangladesh brought about by administrative corruption, the centralized and elitist character of the civil service, a lack of strong leadership and political commitment, conservatism and bureaucratic resistance, and so on. However, this work does not capture the issue of the governance reforms prescribed by donors and anti-corruption measures of the Government of Bangladesh.
In contrast to previous studies, this work tries to explore a direct link between ‘governance reforms’ and anti-corruption measures by referring to Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in Bangladesh; it examines anti-corruption efforts in Bangladesh and the role of ACC within the overarching framework of ‘good governance’, while at the same time criticizing the western notion of governance reform as a ‘new approach’ of development aid. Governance reform in Bangladesh is being advocated and defined by the donors, which has great implications for public policy making in the country. Bangladesh’s current anti-corruption measures through ACC, as prescribed by the donors, are not always linked to actual local demand and necessity arising from the creation of the Bangladeshi state in 1971. Therefore, this study argues that the demand for anti-corruption efforts should come from domestic necessity as dictated by the unique circumstances found in Bangladesh, rather than being imposed by the donors as a component of the governance agenda based on new-liberal ideologies and NPM principles.
This study employed qualitative techniques as its research methodology. However, some findings are presented in quantitative form. A descriptive and exploratory case study approach was utilized for this policy study because the researcher had little control over the events and the focus was on contemporary phenomena (Yin, 1994). The questions were generally of a “how, what or why” nature about anti-corruption drive. This work is based on both primary and secondary documents. A field survey conducted both at the national and local levels in Bangladesh between August and December 2009. At the central level, 91 persons were interviewed from the government, donor agencies, academia, media and civil society. Within the ACC some officials were interviewed. Staffs and members of The Transparency International in Bangladesh were also interviewed. In addition to this, other professionals and people were interviewed in order to find out the stakeholders’ perceptions regarding anti-corruption drive and effectiveness of the ACC in Bangladesh. Stakeholders were selected on the basis of random sampling. The method of data collection was face to face interviews of officials based on guidelines of the open ended questions. In the case of most of the stakeholders, a survey was conducted on the basis of a close ended questionnaire. Therefore, primary data were collected through a structured interview using both closed and open-ended questions. Secondary data were gathered from various published documents (i.e., articles, books, study reports, etc.) and from the internet.
When the first round of unstructured interviews began, the author asked the informants to describe their viewpoints and experience about the donor-driven governance reforms and the role of ACC in Bangladesh. Multiple interviews were also conducted with several informants and their opinions and comments were compared both at the central and local levels on a given issue to address consistency and validity of the data (Yin, 1984). All the above research techniques helped the author to understand the dynamics of donor-recipient relations and their perceptions with regard to anti-corruption drive as well as the activities of the ACC in the context of Bangladesh.
Very few of the interviewees were optimistic about the actual purpose of the contemporary anti-corruption measures and the critical role of the ACC. This process confirms that the ‘nature and scope’ of corruption and governance problems tend to get defined externally and, in particular, in a highly ‘economist’ way, with the poor being considered as a ‘stock’ of people rather than a ‘flow’. There was also criticism among the interviewees about the rhetoric of the donor driven governance agenda and reforms, as well as the Government’s lack of participatory practice and genuine political will to combat corruption.
Mick Moore argues that the states of the ‘South’, although diverse, tend to be underdeveloped in the political sense: neither authoritative and effective nor legitimate and accountable to citizens. The conventional response of aid donors is institutional transfer: trying to align the institutional configurations of Southern states even more closely with those of Northern polities. He warns that this may not be the best approach. He correctly says that the political underdevelopment of much of the South largely results from the ways in which Southern states have been created and political authority shaped through economic and political interactions with the wealthier countries of the North.
‘Political underdevelopment’ is claimed by Moore an outcome of uneven economic development. These arguments of Moore are very relevant to the situation of Bangladesh currently at play. Moore further argues that better appreciation of the nature of these processes could lead to more appropriate policy. He argues that we must note that we cannot reverse the history. This work echoes with what Moore says about the donor-recipient relations in the context of North-South discourse in world politics. Moore added that more attention could be paid to the ways in which Northern states currently help sustain political underdevelopment through aid conditionality in the South. This is notable in case of perpetuating the conditions under which state elites in the South can remain too independent of their own citizens by creating new avenue for corruption through the arguments in favor democratization and ‘good governance’ with those for liberalization and privatization.
International aid and development agencies have identified ‘bad governance’ and corruption as major obstacles to economic growth and to improved welfare in poor countries. They are putting significant resources into trying to change that situation. Increasingly, aid is being conditioned upon performance and intentions of recipients in relation to ‘governance’ issues, whether labeled corruption, institutional development, democracy, capacity building, transparency, rule of law, human rights, or something else. It is striking that this degree of intervention into politically sensitive issues has taken place without stimulating a more vigorous search for an explanation of the underlying causes of the problem.
The question is asked, why should ‘poor governance’ or ‘corruption’ be relatively concentrated in poorer countries? The aid and development agencies themselves appear not to have asked this question in a much sustained way (Moore, 2000). Insofar as an answer to the question is implicit in their behavior, it would appear to be some notion of institutional deficit: poor countries lack the appropriate governance institutions, that are found in rich countries, in the shape of auditor-generals, police academies, independent central banks, legislative committees, freedom of information laws, judicial autonomy, public policy research institutes, and many other things. Actually donor strategy of institutional transfer is flawed. The donor agencies have failed to address the major causes of governance problems.
The argument of this work accepts the view of Moore when he says that the roots of political underdevelopment could show the donors better ways of dealing with the South and it is ironic that aid donors should focus on institutional transfer when the institutional configurations of poor states are in most cases already very similar to those of rich states. In historical perspective, the states of the world have never appeared as similar to one another as they do at present (Tilly 1992: 195). This emphasis on institutional transfer of course in part reflects the absence of alternative ideas about how usefully aid money can improve governance. (Olsen 2000). This work reflects the view that weak governance and underdevelopment in the poor ‘third world’ are the results from the ways in which ‘Southern’ states have been created and political authority shaped through interactions with the wealthier Northern countries in the context of global economic and political systems (Olson, 2000).
Paradoxes of Corruption and Governance Agenda
Colin Leys argued that it was important to ask who was calling who corrupt and what was being described as corrupt (1975:53-8). Therefore, it is now right time to ask who determines prevailing views about what is acceptable and what is not. An important indication of the answer to this question can be found in the annual Corruption Perception Index (CPI), published by Transparency. This provides an index score and rank for countries according to their perceived levels of corruption. Although the Index has no official status, it influences the way countries are perceived internationally. A poor CPI score like Bangladesh is unlikely to be helpful to governments seeking aid, debt relief or approval of their progress on adjustment. It has come to be cited regularly by media and by policy-makers alike and is thus significant in creating an international anti-corruption climate and in influencing how various countries are perceived in terms of corruption. The 2009 CPI ranks 180 countries from the most honest (New Zealand, Denmark) to the most corrupt (Somalia worst, Afghanistan next and Bangladesh third) and in 2010 CPI ranks Somalia and Afghanistan as the most corrupt countries again.
The CPI rankings confirm (despite a few notable exceptions) widespread perceptions that corruption is worst in developing countries, authoritarian regimes and the former communist states and least troublesome in the most developed economies. To this extent the Index reinforces the traditional view that corruption is a ‘phenomenon characteristic’ of developing countries, authoritarian regimes or, at the outside, ‘Mediterranean’ societies in which the value system favored clientelism, vertical relationships or neo-patrimonialism’ (Della Porta and Vannucci, 1999:5). Not surprisingly, this rough divide between an honest North and corrupt South is largely how those who were surveyed and whose views were aggregated in the Index. The CPI presents an index score which calculates how corrupt each country is perceived to be by influential individuals. They are overwhelmingly the perceptions of western business executives, politicians and media correspondents.
When one considers individual cases of corruption, the distance between ‘most corrupt’ and ‘least corrupt’ does not seem as great as is implied by the CPI scale. Given the narrow interests defining the governance agenda, it is not surprising that the consensus of the early ’90s quickly evaporated. Dealings between donors and recipients came to be conditioned by a degree of mutual suspicion and no little acrimony. Why this has not been adequately explained. To a large extent the lack of such an analysis is because most recent emphasis has been on trying to understand the consequences, rather than the causes, of corruption.
The donor strategy creates both opportunities and problems for petty bourgeois politicians: by forcing local markets to open to global capital flows, it provides new opportunities for accumulation outside the state, not least through new aid funds, privatization of state assets and some trade opportunities; but it also threatens the large proportion of the petty bourgeoisie who are dependent on the state – by reducing budgets, retrenching public employees, attacking patronage and punishing attempts to appropriate public resources for private purposes. To the extent that the state has been the main source of accumulation for many, anti-corruption measures can threaten livelihoods. As the state’s resources shrink in circum-stances of crisis and austerity, those shrinking resources may become all the more important for those dependent on them. Poverty and corruption ensures the dependence of elites on political power for accumulation of capital. Far from arresting the upward spiral of corruption, liberalization and governance reforms imposed by the donors have encouraged the development of new forms of corruption in a new way just like putting old wine in a new bottle.
Anti-Corruption as a Contested Strategy in Bangladesh
If ‘governance’ rests on crude simplification of the role of the state, there are problems also with its assumptions about the nature of Bangladeshi politics. The lack of clear separation between the public and private spheres, which encourages corruption, is often ascribed to ‘neo-patrimonialism’. This is the personalized character of politics, in which formal constitutions and organizations are largely subordinate to political parties in power and personal relationship. Such systems are typically clientelist and use state resources to gain political support ‘, which can be called a crisis of clientelism’ (Parnini, 2006: 190). Although ‘neo-patrimonial practices can be found in all polities, it is the core feature of politics in Bangladesh’ (reference-Bratton & van de Walle, 1997:62).
The modern state is somehow alien and corruption is somehow a ‘foreign’ concept invented to fit western political practice, which is of little relevance to the values in everyday Bangladeshi politics. Most of the times, the notions of the separation of public duty and private interest lie somewhere outside the cognition of Bangladeshi politicians and administrators. It is a premise that chimes with anti-corruption measures adopted by the governance agenda, an assumption that values of honesty and transparency must be ‘taught’ through the pressures imposed by globalization and by persuasion, conferences, educational materials and, if necessary, sanctions and public condemnation. This kind of view is found in much western writing about corruption in non-western societies.
However, anti-corruption measures in Bangladesh need to contend with entrenched interests and existing lack of capacity. Investigating corruption is one thing, bringing miscreants to book quite another. A bloated bureaucracy is likely to resist attempts to reduce its share of the social surplus. Nor is it surprising, given low salaries and rapid inflation, that petty corruption is widespread among rank-and-file civil servants, a problem worsened by continuing economic crisis.
In part, however, the resilience and increasing scale of corruption, particularly high- level corruption, owes something to the disruptive nature of the reforms being imposed on Bangladesh and the weakness of the remedies against corruption which these reforms embody. Seminars, handbooks and education are important and uplifting, and economic sanctions worrying for governments, but they are unlikely to influence individuals being offered thousands of dollars by multinationals or by drug dealers. More importantly, structural adjustment, privatization and liberalization under the banner of ‘governance reforms’ have played significant part in weakening the regulatory capacity of the state by removing oversight capabilities. The problem here is that the donors proceed from the ideological assumption that political corruption is simply the product of growing state intervention (Heywood, 1997:12, quoting Rose Ackerman). But it is also clear that liberalization and privatization create a set of new problems while they are not always eradicating the old sources of dishonesty. The use of patronage and bureaucratic ‘rent-seeking’ have not been ended by market reforms i.e. governance reforms; rather they have been joined by new kinds of graft.
As a way of ensuring accountability and reducing corruption, the governance reforms imposed by the donors and the anti-corruption strategy seem seriously flawed. Firstly, ‘civil society” namely NGOs are seen as a means of counter-balancing the interventionist state and so reducing rent-seeking behavior. The crude antithesis of state and civil society has no basis in reality; democracy rests on a dynamic and effective state as much as on ‘civil society’ (Glaser, 1997). Secondly, it is difficult to believe that this watchdog role can be performed by a donor-sponsored ‘civil society’ of civic and human rights associations dependent on foreign funding (Allen, 1997). Thirdly, and most important, efforts to reduce the size of a state that is ‘too big’ also undermine a state that is ‘too weak’ (that is, lacking in capacity to implement policy or provide strategic direction for development). Conditionalities require a reduction in the size of the state (through ‘Public Sector Reform’ programmes) but do little to improve its strength. It is telling that governance reform is classified as an economic conditionality, not as a governance problem; the policy is to reduce its activities to make space for capital and has little concern with its possible role in a sovereign, democratic country. The governance agenda thus risks promoting what it seeks to eradicate – more corruption and greater instability in Bangladesh and elsewhere.
Anti-Corruption Efforts in Bangladesh
Corruption is claimed to be all-pervasive in Bangladesh. It is said that not only do citizens have accepted corruption as a part of their daily life experience but also more frighteningly they feel themselves powerless to address the phenomenon at any level. It is also claimed by the World Bank that the reason for such helplessness is to the presence of corruption in almost all levels of government. Information obtained from the Finance Division of the Ministry of Finance show that over a period of twenty-two years, i.e. between 1971 and 2009, 18 billion US dollar was lost in the public sector due to misappropriation of public funds and theft. But, in order to understand the immense diversity of corruption and it origins, we need to focus on the roles of both the “internal stakeholders” (such as politicians, business cliques and corrupt bureaucrats), as well as external actors (International Financial Institution, Western multinational companies) and their conspiracies.
In contrast, the World Bank and other donors argue that privatization and deregulation would reduce aid dependence and ensure better utilization by increasing trade and investment in the country. This is proved to be flawed in the context of Bangladesh, which contributes to persistence of aid dependence as an economic norm with a thriving exclusive class of political, military and bureaucratic elite along with nouveau riche created by the long spell of autocratic rule as well as corrupt democratic regime. Because the statistics that support the argument is that—Bangladesh received approximately US$3000 billion in the last 3 decades, of which US$2250 billion went back to the donors and the rest of the money absorbed by local beneficiaries . Bangladeshi economy loses more than US$ 100 million dollars a year as a result of corruption representing roughly 25 percent of its GDP. (Transparency International, 2009).
The Bureau of Anti Corruption (BAC) had the prime responsibility to combat corruption since the independence of Bangladesh in 1971. BAC virtually became ineffective in curbing widespread corruption in the country. Against the backdrop of BAC’s failure, the Jatia Sangsad (Bangladesh Parliament) enacted the Anti Corruption Commission Act on February 17, 2004, which came into force on May 9, 2004. The Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) was established on November 21, 2004 under Section 3 of the ACC Act to replace the BAC with the aim of ensuring good governance by eliminating corruption. Besides institutions of ACC, office of Tax Ombudsman is also formed. ACC has spent about US$1 million for the Asian Development Bank as the consultation fee under the ‘Supporting Good Governance Initiative Agreement’ from the public exchequer to make it truly active. At that time, no thought was given for the first time to the aspects of the organizational chart under the changed circumstances and the framing of regulations to ensure the appropriate functioning of an independent and watchdog body. Because the ACC was created in order to meet the donor’s conditionality and to obtain the consequent financial assistance.
As ACC began operating, it faced political and logistical obstacles. Lack of organizational rules and role clarity, fragile leadership, weak investigative capacity, together with an unfriendly political environment affected the ACC’s independence and its ability to redeem its mandate. A change in the perception and commitment to fighting corruption occurred after January 11, 2007 as the State of Emergency was declared to resolve the political crisis prevailed during that time. Along with other institutions, the ACC was reconstituted in February 2007. The ACC initiated a vigorous drive against corruption in 2007 after reconstitution. In its early stage, ACC focused on prosecution, bringing corruption charges against many high profile politicians, government officials, business institutions. A number of individuals were convicted on charges of corruption, which is unprecedented in the history of this country.
Another significant milestone was Bangladesh’s accession to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) on February 27, 2007 and subsequent ratification of the convention. The convention is the first global legally binding instrument, which addresses the full scope of institutional and legal settings that need to be in place to effectively combat corruption, ranging from prevention and criminalization to international co-operation and asset recovery. This establishes a foundation for the government to address corruption both nationally and globally.
Recent Establishment and Rationale of ACC
Despite the existence of a specialized agency like the Bureau of Anti Corruption (BAC) since 1957, corruption in Bangladesh slowly worsened over time. Although there were discussions on corruption during the reign of every government, the issue became a burning one once Bangladesh was placed at the bottom of the TI’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) in June 2001. Donors and international organizations expressed serious concern over widespread corruption in Bangladesh. In many instances foreign assistance were tied with the effectiveness of the anti-corruption measures of the Government of Bangladesh (TI, 2004:23). The BAC was criticized as a toothless watchdog, which mainly served as a political weapon for the ruling party against the opposition (Khan: 2004). Consequently, the Anti Corruption Commission was established in November 2004. However, there were twists and turns that led to its establishment (TI, 2004:23).
In accordance with Anti Corruption Act, 2004 a three-member Anti Corruption Commission was established on November 21, 2004 and the BAC was abolished. But at the beginning the Commission could not be effective in dealing with corruption due to the reluctance of the government in providing necessary legal, administrative and institutional supports. Moreover, conflicts of opinion among the members of the newly constituted Commission contributed to its sterile performance. After the imposition of emergency on January 11, 2007, the Care-taker Government took initiative to reconstitute the ACC.
Ratification of the UNCAC makes it a binding for Bangladesh with obligations to prevent corruption, criminalize and engage in international co-operation against corruption. Some forms of corruption, such as bribery through intermediaries, harassment of citizens with a view to soliciting bribes, bribery of foreign public officials etc. remain outside the scope of penal provisions (ADB, 2006:37). Corruption between private sector entities, commonly referred to as private-to-private corruption, is also not an offence in Bangladesh. It appears that the punishments are also lenient: imprisonment ranges from three to 10 years. In contrast, corruption can result in up to twenty years of imprisonment in Malaysia. Some forms of corruption entail lifetime imprisonment in Indonesia and even capital punishment in Peoples Republic of China (ADB, 2006:37).
As Bangladesh does not have a strong whistle-blower and in the ACC Act there is no appropriate provision for that, informants prefer to remain anonymous and consequently concerned persons cannot be consulted for the purpose of inquiries. In case of South Korea, its Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission (ACRC) took measures for ensuring confidentiality, physical safety and employment guarantee to whistle-blowers. The ACC Act, 2004 has not only given the Commission wide-range of responsibilities but also extensive powers in terms of inquiry, investigation, hearing and even arrest. In fact, the Act gives the ACC a monopoly to investigate and prosecute corruption. As the Commission has extensive powers, it must be held accountable so that these powers are not abused. However, the ACC Act, 2004 provides no effective accountability mechanism other than submitting annual report on the activities completed in the previous calendar year to the President. The annual report to the President is subsequently forwarded to the Parliament. Although the ACC Act underwent two amendments in 2007, still there are loopholes in the Act. Conceptual ambiguity in some provisions, as seen in section 19(2) for example, may give rise to confusions and complicacies not tenable for anti-corruption drives. This necessitates further legal reforms in some areas.
ACC’s workforce constitutes less than 0.1per cent of the total number of posts in the civil employment in Bangladesh, which is 11, 82765 (GoB, 2007). A total of 1264 staffs seems to be inadequate to fight against corruption in a country with a population of about 140 million (BBS, 2008:3). In the context of huge population in Bangladesh and successful experience in other countries, it appears that the ACC is running with inadequate staff in combating corruption. It is also recognized that adequate staff even cannot effectively check corruption if they themselves are not honest and competent. To ensure its integrity, honest and competent personnel must be appointed in the ACC. However, in reality, ACC absorbed the staffs of now defunct BAC personnel without any screening process. Eighty-five percent of staffs of BAC are now working in the ACC. Apart from civilian staff; officials from the armed forces are also deputed in the top positions.
Per capita expenditure for curbing corruption in Bangladesh stands at Tk.1.93 (US$0.03) in 2008-09. In comparison per capita expenditure in Hong Kong and Singapore, where the population and level of corruption are much lower, are US $12.14 and US$1.79 respectively (Quah, 2008:20). These are much higher than that of Bangladesh. Compared to successful countries of Asia, ACC’s budget appears to be inadequate in Bangladesh. The Commission could not fully utilize the fund allotted to it. There is always a huge gap between budget allocation and utilization. Section 30 of the ACC Act, 2004 creates a scope for retaining financial control of the ACC in the hands of the Government. Government not only retains the power of budget allocation but also specify the items on which it is to be spent as mentioned in Section 25 of the ACC Act. This limits the autonomy of utilization of funds are visible. Unlike constitutional bodies, such as the Election Commission or the Public Service Commission, ACC gets its budget as ‘other expenditure’ that is subject to vote of Parliament. These provisions are contrary to financial independence of the ACC.
Against the backdrop of BAC’s failure, establishment of an independent Anti-Corruption Commission in 2004 was viewed as a positive step towards curbing corruption in Bangladesh. After the establishment, ACC was not that effective. (TI, 2008:182). The ACC initiated work after it is reconstituted in 2007. The Commission investigated and prosecuted a significant number of cases against political leaders and prominent citizens particularly during the period of Caretaker Government in 2007-08 who were perceived to be corrupt by the public and the government.
In spite of the few accomplishments, fact remains that the ACC addressed only a small part of its mandate. ACC organized rallies and opinion sharing meetings led by a few notable personalities. Local Corruption Prevention Committees (CPCs) do not have support from the ACC. They do not have a sense of empowerment and they lack experience at community development activities and are not sure if they are allowed to take initiatives in developing a local strategy. The preventive activities covered only a limited area of community development. In fact, due to lack of direction and resources, local CPC’s could not be effective and the initiatives taken by them remained ad-hoc. Whatever preventive initiatives the ACC undertook that were also influenced by external organizations like TIB, not originated from within. No structure or institutional support was set up to sustain these campaign activities. It is observed that ACC’s preventive activities are centered on functions like promoting the values of honesty and integrity and taking measures to build up mass awareness against corruption.
Corruption may be seen as a crime of calculation. It can be reduced if public perceives it as a “high risk, low reward” activity that is those involved in corruption are likely to be caught and severely punished. A total of 129 accused was convicted in 113 corruption cases filed by the ACC till December 31, 2008. Apparently, it seems to be a success on part of the ACC in punitive enforcement. However, analysis of the type of offences in convicted cases reveals that conviction has been predominantly limited to offences where burden on the prosecution is elementary and burden of proof is somewhat shifted to the accused.
Convictions in cases involving scheduled offences are successfully challenged in a number of occasions in the High Court Division. This manifests weak or faulty foundations of the ACC cases involving scheduled offences. Detection and investigation, however effective, cannot credibly increase the risks of punishments for corruption if there is no effective prosecution. The ACC needs to develop its punitive enforcement capacity for more complex cases that are subjected to rigorous legal challenges.
Independence and Transparency
One of the prerequisites for success of an ACA is its independence. The independence of an ACA is characterized by the absence of any undue extraneous influence. It is the key component to creating credibility. If an ACA is dependent upon any particular branch or department in the government (as it was seen in now defunct BAC), it creates an opportunity for compromising investigations and prosecutions of corruption offences. Lack of independence also prevents an ACA from pursuing corruption offences in all strata of society and sectors of the government. The study examines independence of the ACC from legal and operational point of view.
The Preamble and Section 3(2) of the ACC Act mandate that the ACC shall be an independent, self-governing and neutral Commission. A number of sections of the ACC Act are not in line with the intent of the Preamble provision of Section 3(2). Section 25 clearly makes room for dependence of the Commission on the government for its budget and financial power to use the same. Section 30 states that Commission’s organizational structure and budget will be determined by the Government, which poses limits to Commission’s independence. Section 34 subjects the exercise of the power of the Commission to make rules to the prior approval of the President. Section 36 allows the government to intervene and resolve difficulties that may arise due to the vagueness of the ACC Act as to the power and responsibilities of the Commission.
The operational independence of the Commission cannot be fully ensured if legal loopholes remain unaddressed. Again, the shape and independence of a Commission is determined how the officeholder is appointed or removed. If the appointing mechanism ensures consensus support for an appointee through parliament, rather than government, and an accountably mechanism exists outside government (e.g., a Parliamentary Select Committee on which all major parties are represented), the space for abuse or partisan activities can be minimized (TI, 2000:97). The selection and appointment of the executive(s) of the ACA should be a shared responsibility of several institutions (UNDP, 2005). This did not happen in case of the ACC. Apart from selection of ACA leadership, an ACA should also have the freedom to hire its own staff. However, as has already been mentioned, ACC had to absorb more than eighty per cent of the now defunct BAC staff whose honesty and integrity were not beyond question. Government set up the National Committee for Coordination of Grievous Offence (NCC) as a support body for the ACC headed by the then Communications Adviser and its subsidiary Task Forces. With the support of joint task force of military officials ACC embark on a high profile anticorruption drive. As there was ambiguity regarding the functions and responsibilities of the two entities, it was regarded as detrimental to the image of the Commission’s independence.
Linked to independence is accountability– the greater the independence, the greater will be the demand for accountability. A watchdog body created in public interest by public money must be accountable to the people; rigorous self-regulatory as well as external accountability mechanism must be in place. In Hong Kong, there are oversight committees to monitor the activities of the ICAC. Three oversight committees are–the Operations Review Committee, the Corruption Prevention Advisory Committee and the Citizen Advisory Committee on Community Relations (Stapenhurst et.al. 2006:137). The oversight committees seek to ensure that ICAC’s investigations are undertaken with highest level of integrity. Australia (New South Wales) has established two internal oversight committees and two external oversight committees. The internal committees review the organisations policies and procedures on prevention, education, research and investigation, while the external committees ensure that it remains accountable to the public (IGS, 2007:32). In Bangladesh, no such committees exist to hold the ACC accountable. In fact, the ability of an anticorruption agency to work in an unbiased way also depends on appropriate checks and balances as well as constant scrutiny through various oversight mechanisms.
In Bangladesh, low levels of transparency and accountability characterize the functioning of institutions in both the public and private sectors (GoB, 2008:2). The ACC is no exception. ACC lacks transparency on many counts. First, it is not clear how it chooses the corruption case targets (e.g. some are being targeted some are not without any apparent distinction). Second, how it selects ‘special’ cases, chooses pursuable cases among thousands of complaints. Third, the source of funding and expenditures for public rallies are not known. Fourth, how it recruits lawyers in its panels and distributes cases among them are also not clear.
The true transparency of the ACC is dependant upon the objectivity, predictability and consistency of the operations of the Commission. In absence of any oversight committee people have no scope to oversee the activities of the Commission. Another way to enhance transparency is to make the Commission accountable to more than one authority. If the commission were accountable to a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Anti-Corruption Commission, where all the major parties represented, that might help in minimizing the scope of partisan influence. Moreover, the Commission should publish clear and comprehensive written policies to let people know about methods and procedures of the ACC.
Dilemmas and Challenges
Given the context of poverty and the power of foreign capital, political office in Bangladesh becomes a means of entry into business (particularly commerce, finance and services). Given the depth of the debt crisis and rising inflations, the ability to use office to access and manipulate state resources and foreign aid opens up possibilities of entry into the bourgeoisie. Iyayi (1986) has suggested that corruption might represent a form of primitive accumulation in which the plunder of state resources was a means of transferring surplus from peasants and workers to bureaucrats and businessmen. The process also works the other way around; the state is a resource through which capital can seek market privileges, public contracts, monopolies or other rents.
The respondents during the field survey also opined that most of the political elites and bureaucrats do not care about the role of the anti-corruption measures and ACC in Bangladesh. They deem themselves more powerful and consider themselves beyond the reach of the ACC or any kind of anti-corruption actions. As a result, sound anti-corruption measures are hardly possible. The current function of the ACC illustrates that the authority of ACC does not have absolute independence to investigate any anti-corruption case or to actions against the corrupt but powerful elites. Owing to a lack of proper monitoring and discontinuation of the flow of fund of different development project works, corrupt practices continue unabated.
Government officials and other professionals from the donors, private sectors and civil society were asked in the interview to comment on anti-corruption drive through ACC in Bangladesh. They were also asked to view the issue of the existing relationship among different government institutions, which creates environment conducive to corruption in policy implementation. In response, the majority of the respondents (77%) expressed their concern about anti-corruptions measures and view that the existing drive is largely inadequate and controversial. Moreover, the respondents are pessimistic about the role of ACC, which is not functioning properly and more often it becomes the vehicle of the political parties in power to serve their interest against the opposition parties. In particular these non-transparent relationships among the government institutions and the failure to comply with governance conditionality affect the release of funds by the donors for the implementation of plans to run the development projects. If funds are not available, projects become delayed and are often not completed. If funds become available at a later stage of project implementation, implementers are in a hurry to complete the project often with an adverse effect on quality and standards. Moreover, ACC has been frequently used to target the opposition party leaders and their followers. In such a situation, the role of government offices is limited. Many government officials had strong words to say about this situation during the interview.
The leadership in the ACC and other anti-corruption agencies are more or less selected through a non-transparent process, which for obvious reasons did not act as per rules and laws. The Bangladesh Parliament is empowered as per article 76 of the Constitution and rules 187 – 266 of Rules of Procedure of the Parliament to discuss, investigate, inquire, call for any files and recommend actions against any corrupt practice. However much of this power had not been used, rather grossly misused. Lack of anti-corruption awareness among people is a major hindrance as well. The civil society has also failed in its role to take up a united stand against politically corrupt leadership and motivate public opinion to take effective measures against them.
The Way Ahead
Corruption has become an increasingly important issue for Bangladesh and other countries in the aftermath of the cold war. For the World Bank, corruption flourishes where ‘institutions are weak and government policies generate ‘economic rents’. For Mauro its causes are found in trade restrictions, subsidies, price controls, multiple exchange rates and foreign exchange allocation schemes, which permit rents to be extracted, and in low civil service wages which encourage rent-seeking activities. the World Bank argues that corruption will reduce macroeconomic performance, undermine Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), harm small business and the poor and endanger the environment. The implications are clear – the alternatives to corruption and rent-seeking are the same, namely, deregulation, less state and more market. It is not surprising, then, that the international financial institutions concerned with adjustment and restructuring should be concerned about corruption.
Anti-corruption commission forms just one component of the Bangladeshi Government’s anti-corruption strategies. As discussed above, an effective strategy should undertake a holistic approach aimed at strengthening all pillars of a national integrity system (Transparency International, 2009). Accordingly, it is difficult to isolate whether a reduction in corruption can be attributed to an anti-corruption commission or to other factors. The application of a national integrity system approach further provides a basis to assess the levels of a corruption in a given state and identify areas of institutional weakness. While interdependent, each institution should be weighted equally.
In connection with adequate financial resources, the effectiveness of anti-corruption commission also depends on adequate technological support; corruption investigations often require sophisticated interception of communications and surveillance devices, as well as financial intelligence software for the tracing of assets and the prevention and detection of advance fee fraud. In connection with high levels of integrity of staff and gaining public confidence,
Governance reforms deals with stabilization of what might be called ‘a bourgeois order’ (markets, private enterprise, and the liberal state, urban and middle class ‘civil society’). The process of accumulating private property is not a problem in its discourse. More seriously, it leads to those tackling corruption largely ignoring the role of political economy, electoral competition and inherited institutions in corruption. The concern is with the role of state intervention, not with crises of underdevelopment and debt peonage in the context of international accumulation, still less with the opportunities for corruption which markets, privatization and deregulation create. Corruption has survived and prospered despite efforts at institutional political reform such as formation of ACC in Bangladesh, precisely because such change has not affected the structural forces which give rise to it and, frequently, has not even addressed it.
A Joint Cooperation Strategy (JCS) agreement between the Bangladeshi Government and the development partners was signed on June 2, 2010 with a view to making aid more effective in the coming years to reach the real development goals. From now on the government and the development partners will work together to strengthen mutual accountability and also to define and monitor priority actions to address the identified aid effectiveness challenges in Bangladesh. The JCS is supposed to ensure better cooperation between the government and the development partners keeping in view the government’s different programmes like the anti-corruption strategies, Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS), the 6th five-year plan and Vision-2021. This JCS should be committed to bring about a fundamental change in Bangladesh in every respect by reducing non-coercive interventions of the donors through conditionality.
Against the backdrop of the above discussion it is visible that only a cosmetic change imposed by the donors through ‘governance agenda’ by establishing ACC and by undertaking other largely ineffective anti-corruption strategies can hardly combat corruption in Bangladesh. That is why, a much more fruitful approach to understanding the combination of clientelism, centralized rule and corruption so frequently found in Bangladesh (but not inevitably or exclusively) would need to include a more holistic and coherent view of the various forces that shaped them historically.
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