Why Bangladeshis believe they are not honest

THE OPPOSITE of being corrupt is to be honest. Bangladeshis unfortunately seem far from being honest. Now that Bangladeshis have hit the abyss of corruption for the third year in a row, it can be comfortably said that they are “dishonest”.
But the government leaders seem unconvinced; they even sensed a hidden motive behind Transparency International’s preparation of Corruption Index.
They have become angry over the fact that a foreign organisation has prepared this index. But a question that ironically, looms is: would a local organisation be allowed to prepare such index? The answer is self-explanatory.
But why would they be angry and surprised? They are the ones who are running the country! Even the Prime Minister was shocked when she came to know the extent of corruption in the country’s educational projects.
Reportedly, bureaucratic bottlenecks and corruption in Bangladesh have taken a toll on the country’s major education projects and hindered its march towards the goal of achieving total literacy by the year 2005.
Corruption and lack of commitment forced the government to give up in August this year, its ambitious 150 million-dollar Total Literacy Movement (TLM) programme. The literacy rate of the country was about 40 per cent in 1998. And after five years of the TLM, the rate could barely increase to 62 per cent, according to government statistics. However, a survey by the Education Watch, an NGO, has shown that the overall literacy rate is only 41.4 per cent.
When this piece of news leaves the people utterly frustrated, another news, published in The Korea Times recently, causes worry. The staff reporter of this Korean newspaper, Byun Duk-kun, reported that migrant workers from Bangladesh held a protest rally in front of the Bangladesh embassy in Seoul, claiming that the diplomats were misappropriating their citizens’ passport application fees.
More than 40 Bangladeshi migrant workers and 60 members of the Joint Committee of Migrant Workers in Korea made a protest visit to the Bangladeshi embassy in Tongbinggo-dong, Seoul, and filed a petition with the Bangladeshi Ambassador to Seoul, asking the embassy to look into the corruption scandal.
The protesters alleged that certain diplomats at the embassy misappropriated at least 300 million won ($250,000) in passport application fees. One of the protesters told the reporter: “One of my friends went to apply for a three-year extension on his passport and paid 105,000 won, but he only got a one-year extension which costs 35,000 won.”
According to the worker, the application for a three-year passport was never entered into the embassy’s official records. Although most of Bangladeshi workers who applied for an extension to their passports received their requested periods of extension, the workers argued more than 75 per cent of all applications were never entered in the registry book, thus allowing the embassy workers to pocket extra money.
Now, this report may not be true. But it certainly adds fillip to the already sliding image of the country. No one would now believe what the embassy officials have to say. Meanwhile, the government has done a commendable job by planning to take legal actions against some NGOs allegedly for ‘misusing funds’. But mere focusing on only a couple of NGOs would not solve the problem.
Coming back to Bangladesh being the most corrupt, although Pakistan and India trailing right behind their neighbor, Bangladesh still ranks as the world’s most graft-ridden nation. One doesn’t need to go far; people experience every day the procedures in government offices and public sector corporations.
One of the best remedial solutions, formation of an anti-corruption watchdog, is not being implemented. While there were 874 corruption cases reported in the country between January and June 2003, the government’s long-standing promise of establishing an independent anti-corruption body, remains mired in controversy. The existing anti-corruption body – Bureau of Anti Corruption (BAC) – that works directly under the Prime Minister, has been termed a toothless watchdog a decade ago.
The BAC’s track record proves it mainly serves as a political weapon for the ruling party against the opposition. But with graft continuing to spiral, the government was forced to begin drafting a bill for an independent anti-corruption commission two years ago. Due to heavy pressure from civil society activists and international donors, the draft was scheduled to be completed in April.
But on one excuse or another, the government continues to delay it. Who loses if the country remains mired in corruption; if people in power do not shoulder their responsibility properly? The people, of course. The best example of this is the pre-Ramadan price-hike of the essentials.
Ramadan is not a once-in-a-life-time event; it doesn’t come abruptly; rather, it’s a yearly phenomenon.
Around this time, traders have always shown the inclination to raise the price of essential goods. And since it’s a yearly event, leaders could have taken stern measures and stop this price spirals. However, that has not been the case; the policy-thinkers have devised a strategy to tame the price-hikes, but one is almost certain that they wouldn’t be able to implement their strategy.
And this is a glaring indicator of a society going down. This trend has to stop; leaders and policy-thinkers have to take the responsibility for their failures because they are the ones who are at the steering wheel.

I wrote this in 2003 while working for The Financial Express; this has relevance to Ramadan. That’s why I’m uploading this again. — Ekram

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