Spanning two democratically elected governments, Bangladesh was consistently ranked the most corrupt country in the world between 2001 and 2005 by the Berlin-based anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International. It is indeed ironic that successive democratic regimes since 1991 have failed to rein in this pervasive malaise afflicting the country's society, polity and governance. The hopes generated by the caretaker government of 2007-08 based on its avowed and rigid stance against corruption, massive anti-corruption drive and mass arrests of suspects also turned out to be short-lived mainly due to various institutional, legal and political constraints. This disappointing trend has continued even after a democratically elected government assumed office in 2009.
According to the United Nations' definition, corruption in government is perceived to be the abuse of public power and authority for private and other group gains. It takes place as a result of inadequacies in public management systems as well as social, cultural, political and economic factors. Article 20 (2) of the Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh stipulates: "The State shall endeavour to create conditions in which, as a general principle, persons shall not be able to enjoy unearned incomes, and in which human labour in every form, intellectual and physical, shall become a fuller expression of creative endeavour and of the human personality".
In this backdrop, the recent exchanges between the country's two leading anti-corruption watchdogs - ACC and TIB - have caught the attention of many corruption-watchers in Bangladesh. While the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is an autonomous statutory body in the public sector constituted in 2004 by replacing the then Bureau of Anti-Corruption and thereafter governed by the Anti-Corruption Commission Act, 2004, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) is the accredited national chapter of Berlin-based Transparency International - active in the country since 1996.
It was the ACC chairman who started the verbal duel by publicising comments critical of TIB during a view-exchange meeting with a Geneva-based policy-cum-strategy expert on the evaluation of TIB's ongoing programmes and determination of its future actions plans. As reported in the print media based on an ACC press release, the ACC chairman opined on March 05 that although TIB enjoyed a positive image among the people, some criticisms are also heard about it. Before criticising ACC or any other body, it should keep in mind the contemporary realities, circumstances and culture of the country, he reminded asserting that alongside criticisms, the remedies should also be mentioned by TIB. He went on to say that if the government or any government organisation or a political party does anything good, then that should also be praised. TIB should not be a one-eyed entity; rather it should be two-eyed.
The ACC chairman further admonished that the budgets and income-expenditure accounts of all organisations including that of TIB should be transparent. It is not enough to post their incomes-expenditures, action plans and audit measures merely on the website, the people should be informed about these through other means as well including the mass media. Regarding the research studies conducted by TIB, he opined that the research methodology should be transparent and TIB should exclusively use primary data. In that case, there would be fewer errors in the research findings and analyses, and the credibility of its reports would be enhanced, he held.
Taking exception to these sweeping remarks, TIB strongly protested the words of ACC chairman the very next day through a press release captioned "TIB is not at all 'one-eyed', it is completely neutral and objective; ACC chairman's comments are deceptive". At the very outset, it expressed deep disappointment at the 'baseless and deceptive' comments made by the chairman about TIB. "TIB had the notion that the ACC authorities were aware of the work-sphere and programmes of TIB; but that has been proved to be incorrect by the words of ACC chairman. TIB is not at all one-eyed; all positions, reports and views of TIB are fully objective and neutral, formulated by following scientific research methods".
Clarifying the whole issue, the TIB executive director claimed that TIB does not merely identify deficiencies in good governance in different institutions and sectors through analysis of corruption-related information and data; rather it also puts forward specific recommendations for overcoming the problems in all instances. Besides, all research reports prepared by TIB objectively presents the positive achievements alongside the existing challenges faced by the relevant sectors or institutions. For example, ACC was created as a result of research-based recommendations and suggestions made by TIB. Besides, TIB had a direct or indirect role in most of the notable institutional, legal and policy reforms in the public and private sectors brought about with the objective of establishing good governance and curbing corruption in Bangladesh. The TIB executive director added that the files related to income-expenditure of TIB are open for all interested quarters, and the entity was ready to extend full cooperation if ACC was suspicious about its work including financial statements and wanted to carry out investigation.
On the formulation of research reports, the TIB executive director recalled that the organisation depended on both primary and secondary data and adhered to internationally recognised research methodology for social sciences by maintaining highest standards. All TIB research reports elaborate at the very start the methodology followed for collecting and analysing information and data. In fact, the principal reason for TIB's credibility in all quarters amid hundreds of adversities has been its research method, through which it has been able to prove its findings to be correct at different junctures, the executive director asserted.
Summing up, the TIB executive director stated, "Criticism about the research programmes of TIB is nothing new, it has now become a part of our political culture. But it is really sad if statutory bodies like ACC, which is supposed to be legally independent and neutral, gets influenced by this culture. TIB has faith the ACC will eventually garner the righteous courage to tolerate criticism. Whatever it may be, ACC is not a political or government institution".
This verbal duel of sorts only points to the sorry state of statutory bodies in numerous sectors of society, economy and governance.
Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed is a former editor of Bangladesh Quarterly. firstname.lastname@example.org
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