Despite strong laws, graft goes unchecked

Bangladesh’s failure to implement laws intended to protect whistleblowers and guarantee its citizens’ right to information has allowed corruption to flourish in the country. This the conclusion reached in a new report by Transparency International, an NGO that monitors and reports on corporate and political corruption.

lawsDespite having a strong Right to Information law, 88 percent of requesters reported having to visit the information provider’s office numerous times, 29 percent reported facing harassment, 26 percent faced difficulties finding the responsible information officer and eight percent reported having to pay additional money to obtain the information they sought, according to the report Fighting Corruption in South Asia: Building Accountability, which was released on Wednesday.

“Crucially, awareness of the law remains low among public officials,” it added.

“Harassment of requesters is a very common practice among public officials. If you go to a department for information you might be told the responsible officer is off duty, but in fact he is there,” said Rosaline Costa, coordinator of the group Hotline Human Rights Bangladesh.

Dhaka-based public awareness NGO Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (SHUJAN), or Citizens for Good Governance, has been trying to publicize information regarding the wealth, income and criminal records of politicians contesting parliamentary elections. Last year it published a report comparing fluctuations in the wealth and income of 48 individuals who have held important public offices between the years 2008 and 2013. It found that the average income and wealth of many of them skyrocketed during this period.

“There have been attempts to threaten and harass us after we published the report. I was personally defamed in parliament by a former minister,” said Badiul Alam Majumder, SHUJAN secretary.

Majumder said that the country’s Information Commission had also failed to cooperate when the group attempted to obtain information about the wealth and income of political parties ahead of this year’s January 5 national election.

“We could not get the audited statements of political parties from the Election Commission. The Information Commission also refused to consider such audited statements as ‘public information’ and directed the EC not to give us the information. We are now considering going to court to seek a remedy,” he said.

Prior to 2014, Bangladesh was the only country in South Asia to have a dedicated whistleblower protection law. “However there has been very little progress in implementing the law and awareness among potential users is almost non-existent,” stated the report. “Indeed, one year after the law was passed, only 10 percent of mid-ranking civil servants knew that it even existed,” it said.

“There are good laws in [Bangladesh], but they are not properly implemented and publicized.”

By comparison, Costa said, “in India the government, NGOs and media undertake programs to make people aware after a new law is passed, but it never happens here”.

The report also noted that vital watchdogs of the judiciary and the Anti-Corruption Commission are largely ineffective in both investigating and preventing corruption in Bangladesh. For example, in 2012, the ACC submitted charge sheets in 588 cases but only around 57 cases were successfully prosecuted.

According to the report, politically motivated judicial appointments, transfers and removals have also “increased in recent years”. The government has appointed 48 judges to the Supreme Court since 2009, most of whom have been allegedly selected for their “pro-government bias”.

“Corruption is deeply rooted in our political system and it is destroying all spheres of the public and private sectors. Without a strong political will, intense pressure from civil society groups and media, no changes will come soon,” said Costa.

-UCA News