What the Bangladesh chapter of the Transparency International (TI), the Berlin-based anti-graft watchdog, has revealed in its latest household survey on graft situation in the country is unlikely to create any special interest among the people in general. The findings are almost identical to that of the previous years. The only difference is that some agencies have swapped their respective positions as most corrupt entities. In 2015 survey, the passport and immigration department was at the top on corruption and bribery chart, followed by the law enforcing units. In the latest survey, the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) has been listed as the top bribe taker, with law enforcement and passport ranking second and third respectably.
One particular finding of the survey deserves special attention. A greater number of people are now recognising the effectiveness of bribe-money in securing services from various agencies. In the 2015 TIB survey, 71 per cent people had reported that services from government agencies could not be secured without paying bribe. The percentage of people having the same perception in 2017 increased to 89. This, by any measure, is a big jump and contradicts the claim that a section of policymakers do often make about improvement in graft situation in the country.
Graft is more of a systemic phenomenon in Bangladesh. Yet prevalence of the vice is far more widespread in some public sector agencies than others as the people are required to pay a high cost while securing services from them. That law enforcement agencies, in particular, are the most graft-ridden in this part of the world is an undisputed fact. The agencies could hardly improve their image though the government has invested a huge sum to hike their pay packages and meet their training and logistical needs in recent years.
Similarly, the BRTA is an agency where nothing moves without speed money. Officials allegedly engage middlemen to collect bribe money on their behalf. In recent years, the service seekers did see 'surprise visits' and the like by the minister in charge of the road transport ministry to stop irregularities, financial or otherwise, in the BRTA. But the placement of BRTA at the top of the bribery-chart in the latest TIB survey does demonstrate the fact that all 'efforts' to correct BRTA have failed to bear any fruit.
It has also been rather surprising that the situation has not improved in the passport and immigration department, another hotbed of corruption, in recent years. A few administrative changes were made in the preparation and distribution of passports. Non-civilian people were inducted and given the responsibility to oversee passport issuance. There were some short-lived improvements. But passport-seekers do still face all sorts of hassles.
The extent of corruption in other areas, including judiciary, land, education and health, is also high. The TIB's perceptional estimate is that the people had paid bribes worth about Tk. 107 billion in 2017 and the amount is equivalent to 3.4 per cent of the government's budget expenditure for the year 2016-17. The question that must be agitating the mind of most people is: should the situation go on like this? Will the TIB or some other organisations like it go on assessing the graft situation while the bribe-takers at the service agencies continue feasting on the common people? The victims of systemic corruption do deserve an answer from the Anti-corruption Commission (ACC).
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