The Anti-corruption Commission (ACC) is now active, even if not up to the level desired by the common people, more than any time before. The entry of the current head of this anti-graft body, undeniably, has infused some dynamism into it.
Until now, the ACC, it seems, has kept its focus narrow in view of limitations, in terms of manpower and logistics. Yet its intention to create panic among corrupt elements, particularly those who are involved in the delivery of service to the people and financial dealings in private and public institutions, is quite clear. It is, however, hard to say whether it has been successful in doing so until now.
To be honest, combating corruption in Bangladesh is a hell of a job. The menace is not just pervasive, it is systemic also. The rot is everywhere and containing it even to a reasonable level, to many, might appear an impossible task.
None other than the incumbent chairman himself cited an example the other day. Speaking at a workshop, organised jointly by the ACC and the National Board of Revenue on ' Integrity and Morality of NBR Officials' in Dhaka last Wednesday, said his organisation was not being able to look into the sources of wealth of taxpayers as taxmen issue certificates without taking into consideration the actual value of the property concerned. He alleged that a piece of land worth Tk160 million in the posh Gulshan area of Dhaka city is shown at a price of Tk 20 million in the wealth statement. High-value property is transferred showing nominal prices in the deed. Thus, he said, unearned and black money has been sneaking into the economy, giving rise to problems of all sorts.
ACC chairman Iqbal Mahmood, a former bureaucrat, warned taxmen against any nexus with the tax evaders and amassing wealth illegally. Whether the warning will have any effect on the unscrupulous section of taxmen is difficult to say. But it is highly unlikely that they would take the warning seriously.
He also suggested to the NBR people to ensure tax files for all so that the ACC gets an idea about the wealth of any person and take any measure if there was any substantial accumulation of wealth of a taxpayer.
What Mr. Mahmood said about the wealth statement is true. But that should not anyway stop the ACC from conducting probe on its own into wealth accumulated by corruption suspects. The ACC is guided by its own law and rules. The tax laws do not allow it to look into an individual taxpayer's tax return or wealth statement. Nor the banks are supposed to allow the ACC or the NBR to have information about any account-holder.
The ACC would investigate using its own mechanism and tools. Competence, efficiency, honesty and integrity on the part of investigators do matter most in such investigation. The ACC top notches should know more about the availability of people having all these qualities. There was a serious dearth of this kind people in the past. However, it is not the ACC alone. Most organisations, including the private ones, are finding it hard to recruit quality manpower.
Since the ACC is trying to make its presence felt, it has to decide on the areas where it would concentrate most of its efforts. Issuing warnings in public would not anyway heighten its image. It has to produce visible results that concern people's expectations.
As part of such move, the ACC, reportedly, has recently written to the Cabinet Division to identify the 'grey areas' in government offices where corrupt practices are found to be more. Such identification, the ACC believes, would help it pursue the corrupt officials. The Cabinet Division has, in turn, asked different ministries to locate the 'grey' areas. The move, it is feared, is unlikely to produce any tangible results.
The ACC does need to concentrate more on chasing the corrupt elements in offices where people in large numbers seek various services. It is not anyway hard for the Commission people to know about such services and their deliverers.
There is no denying that the common people are made to pay bribe or speed money to officials and employees to secure help or services. Expectations were high among a section of policymakers that substantial hike in salaries and other benefits of the public servants would help reduce corruption. But, in reality, there has not been any change in approach on the part of bribe-takers in government offices. Hauling up such corrupt elements in large numbers, followed by good publicity might prove helpful to uphold the ACC cause. And to help lift its image in public, the ACC does also need to nab a few powerful and influential corruption suspects, irrespective of their hues, political or otherwise.