Friday, 21 January 2011

Apex court shows the way

While speaking as chief guest at a book launching ceremony at the Institute of Judicial Administration and Training in the capital on January 15, Chief Justice A.B.M. Khairul Haque said that a five-member committee comprised of senior judges of the High Court had been formed to identify corrupt people in the judiciary on the basis of the graft report of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB).

The general people, who were not very comfortable with the Supreme Court's (SC) asking for the detailed papers on the TIB's survey on service sector corruption as well as with the "invitation" extended by the SC to the TIB's top management at the former's premises to seek clarification on the survey report, now feel happy to see that the TIB report and the clarification given by its top management could satisfy the CJ and his colleagues, and that the CJ has initiated steps to go after those who are involved in corruption and corrupt practices in the judiciary.

It may be mentioned that in order to ascertain the nature and rate of corruption at different government and non-government service institutions and sectors through the experience of households as well as to make appropriate recommendations for the prevention and control of corruption and corrupt practices, TIB conducted a survey on 6,000 households (3,480 in rural areas and 2,520 in urban areas) between June 2009 and May 2010.

The findings of the survey, titled "Service Sector Corruption: National Household Survey 2010," covering 13 service sectors, were released on December 23, 2010. The survey revealed that among the surveyed sectors, the judiciary was the most corrupt followed by law enforcement agencies, land administration, taxes and customs, electricity, agriculture, local governments, health, banking, education, NGOs and others.

The CJ's statement regarding formation of the judges' committee to identify corrupt people in the judiciary has been welcomed by the people and the media. The positive approach of the judiciary towards the TIB report is a departure from the stance that has been taken by the executive branch.

Law Minister Shafique Ahmed has questioned the appropriateness of the methodology of the TIB's survey and termed the findings as "untrue and misleading." State minister for Law, Qamrul Islam, has gone to the extent of terming the TIB report as "a ploy to indirectly hinder the trial of war criminals." High-ups in the police that occupied the second position in the corruption list have questioned the credibility of the TIB report and found "a motive" behind the report, although they did not explain what the "motive" was.

We have seen such attitude of the government in the past also. When Bangladesh was ranked as the most corrupt country in the world by the Berlin-based Transparency International (TI) for five consecutive years starting from 2001, the government, instead of taking necessary steps for combating corruption, rejected the TI reports almost every time questioning the appropriateness of the methodology of survey.

When Bangladesh was for the first time ranked as the most corrupt country in the world by the TI in 2001, the then Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina rejected the TI report. When Bangladesh was ranked as the most corrupt country for the third time in a row in 2003, the then BNP-led alliance government's Finance Minister Saifur Rahman rejected the TI report saying: "It was not correct to condemn a nation on the basis of some unproven allegations reported by newspapers and the general impression of some people."

When Bangladesh topped the list of the corrupt countries for the fifth year in a row in 2005, the then Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia in a televised address rejected criticism from the opposition parties that her government did nothing to combat the problem of corruption, adding that "the level of corruption had come down, but progress was not so visible because of a media campaign and deliberate rumours."

The apex court deserves thanks for its decision to go hard against the corrupt elements in the judiciary based primarily on the recent graft report of TIB. It is high time that the government, instead of questioning the appropriateness of the methodology of survey reports of TIB and other relevant agencies, follows the example set by the highest court to initiate actions against the departments and organisations identified as corrupt.

Here the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), that has been created to prevent corruption in the country, has a big role to play. The ACC must make strides against institutional and non-institutional/personal corruption to reduce it to the minimum level so that Bangladesh can stand with her head high as one of the least corrupt countries in the world.

M. Abdul Latif Mondal is a former Secretary

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