The public sector corruption fighter ACC (Anti-Corruption Commission) could earn a moderate score of 60 per cent based on its performance in 50 indicators under 6 broader dimensions in a recent institutional evaluation study conducted by the Bangladesh Chapter of Transparency International (TIB). The six dimensions were: independence and status; financial and human resources; accountability and integrity; detection, investigation and prosecution; prevention, education and outreach; and cooperation-cum-external relations.
Each indicator in the study had three possible scores of high, moderate and low, their ranges in terms of percentage being 67 per cent-100 per cent, 34 per cent-66 per cent and 0 per cent-33 per cent respectively. The TIB undertook this research as a follow-up to its earlier institutional study on ACC back in 2016. This time, ACC received high scores in 42 per cent (21) of the indicators, moderate scores in case of 36 per cent (18) indicators, and low in case of 22 per cent (11). The top-scoring dimensions were: 'prevention, education and outreach' (75 per cent), 'independence and status' (67 per cent), and 'cooperation and external relations' (67 per cent), while the lowest score was awarded in 'detection, investigation and prosecution' (44 per cent).
In the dimension of 'independence and status', questions have been raised about ACC's freedom and neutrality based on its activities and application of power. Many experts feel ACC is used as a tool for harassing opposition politicians but is liberal in case of politicians belonging to the ruling party/alliance. All these indicate ACC is not politically neutral; its actions are politically biased and not uniform for all parties. Its functional independence is also limited, as it faces pressure from the government, the ruling party and other stakeholders. Besides, prior permission of the government is required for filing cases against government employees as per Public Service Act 2018. In some instances, it refrains from functioning independently fearing adverse reaction from the government side.
In the dimension of financial and human resources, the ACC budget has remained stuck at 0.031 per cent of national budget during 2016-18, when the international norm for such budget was 0.2 per cent. The training budget has also been stagnant at 0.5 per cent, where the international norm is 1.3 per cent. Besides, the ACC lacks expertise in handling cases related to illegal transfer of property ownership, banking corruption, embezzlement of assets etc. There is dearth of quality among panel lawyers recruited in the districts. Similarly, the concerned staffs are not adept in corruption prevention and education, as a result of which they mostly rely on the local anti-corruption committees and Satata Sanghas (integrity associations) for the purpose.
In the dimension of accountability and integrity, the main causes of concern are an absence of comprehensive mechanism to observe and assess ACC's functions, and its submission of annual report only to the president. No discussion takes place on this report even in parliament. Although the commission has a supervision and evaluation section for assessing investigation reports, there is no room for people's representation in this framework. There are also no separate conduct rules for the employees of the commission. An internal corruption prevention committee investigates allegations against ACC employees, but the risks of conflict of interest persist here. There are also complaints that similar cases are often handled differently depending on directions from the ACC leadership as well as possible reaction or stand of the government. Besides, a section of ACC employees are allegedly negligent in carrying out their duties alongside indulgence in corruption.
Only 6.75 per cent complaints were taken up for investigation by ACC during 2016-18 under the detection, investigation and prosecution dimension, when the international benchmark in the area is over 66 per cent. And among the investigations, only 21 per cent were converted into cases, when the international standard was over 75 per cent. On the other hand, the rate of punishment in cases filed by ACC is 57.7 per cent, when the international benchmark is over 75 per cent. People's perception regarding ACC's neutrality in pursuing cases is not very positive demonstrating lack of public confidence on the body. Besides, the commission has failed to achieve any visible success in detecting grand corruption. Concerns also exist about the skill and professionalism of ACC in inquiries and investigations. There are even allegations of bribery and negligence against officials involved in the process.
The score earned by ACC was comparatively better in the dimension of education and outreach. But the budget allocated for the purpose (2.65 per cent of total) did not appear to be sufficient. It undertook some publicity and prevention programmes at the local and national levels in concert with its corruption prevention and integrity committees, but those lacked coordination and proper planning. Besides, programmes appear to have become ritualised and tagged to the observance of certain occasions like the International Day against Corruption and the Anti-Corruption Week. Although emphasis was laid on prevention and education in the strategic plan (2017-21) of ACC, the strategy has in fact been neglected and became dependent on the local committees. Formation of a separate research section for ACC is still under process. The website is not regularly updated and the use of social media by the commission is quite limited.
In the dimension of cooperation and outreach, ACC does not have specific objectives, strategies or standards for reaching services to the marginalised segments of population like women and the minorities. Besides, there is limited cooperation between ACC and the anti-corruption bodies of other countries for curbing corruption, which needs to be bolstered in view of the global nature of the malady.
Overall, the ACC received low or moderate scores in indicators like adherence to proper procedure, confidence in getting official help, working capacity and political use of its power. Rigorous training for enhancing the efficiency and professionalism of staffs in investigation-cum-prosecution of cases, as well as sufficient budgetary allocations for carrying out the assigned tasks alongside institutional independence and political goodwill are essential for improving the situation.
Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed is a retired Additional Secretary of GoB and former Editor
of Bangladesh Quarterly.
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