Corruption in various forms particularly in foreign trade has long been in vogue. Reassuringly, of late, awareness against it has grown, thanks to the efforts of global graft watchdogs like Transparency International, TI. Pointing finger at corporate graft by entities like TI is a rather recent development. In the past, it was mainly the job of the radical left. Now international advocacy groups are speaking against such grafts. Traditionally, such corruption involves offering kickbacks to Third World government officials to win bid contracts or other business deals. Host foreign governments often turn a blind eye to the unethical payoffs by their business houses. On top of it, large sums of money from such dubious deals land in foreign banks through laundering. And it is exactly such lapses by foreign governments that have come under scrutiny from the Berlin-based TI as reflected in its latest report. Intriguingly, most of some 47 big economies controlling world's 80 per cent export trade failed to take any legal action against their errant companies in 2018, says TI. This is despite their commitment to the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.
Between 2016 and 2019, the years under review, only four countries did take any enforcement measures under the law against offenders. Ironically, some big names in the international arena, many of them G-20 members, are among those failing to meet their anti-graft commitments. Rampant graft in external trade, as the TI report claims, is a serious matter that deserves the highest attention from all the governments concerned. It is an issue that seriously affects Bangladesh since many of these big economies defaulting on UN's or OECD's anti-graft conventions are also our business partners. Such grafts by foreign traders exporting their goods and services to Bangladesh cause our economy to lose. And, a developing country like ours can hardly afford it.
Our development partners and countries with which Bangladesh transacts significant volumes of trade do have a stake in the matter. It is well within their diplomatic ambit to see that Bangladesh is not deprived of a fair deal in any business transaction between them. So, they should extend necessary help to agencies engaged in tracking down such instances of graft. And, also, take action where necessary in the spirit of UNCAC or OECD's ant-bribery convention or according to the law of their own country.
Finding itself at the receiving end of such illicit trade practices by foreign companies, Bangladesh government has to play a proactive role in this regard. It should prevail upon friendly foreign governments and their diplomats in Bangladesh so they might investigate instances of such dishonest practices and hold their erring businesses to account. As it takes two to tango, Bangladesh government needs also to hold probe into any suspicious deal of local clients with foreign companies. By taking such steps, it can convince friendly foreign diplomats and their governments of the gravity of the matter which affects mutual trade interests. At home, the government needs to strengthen its own enforcements mechanism to curb doubtful foreign transactions. The anti-corruption commission (ACC) can also play its role in unveiling and taking measures against such nexus active in the country. Legal expertise should also be developed to identify legal loopholes in international trade through which such illicit transactions take place.