The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), anti-graft watchdog, is going through flurries of activities. It has apparently become active in arresting alleged corrupt people and filing cases against them.
Very recently, the anti-graft chief reiterated that big shots, who have been found involved in corruption, would be arrested in due time. There is no barrier to arresting the big fishes. They would be arrested whenever the concerned investigation officer would feel it necessary, he said.
During the last few months, the ACC is arresting almost every day senior government officials, including retired ones, on charges of corruption. It has approved filing of 34 cases against 97 people, including public representatives and businessmen, in March this year. Reports say the cases were filed on charges of amassing wealth beyond known sources of income, concealing information about wealth, as well as cheating, bribery and forgery.
A total of 42, out of 849 complaints received in March, are being investigated now. Submission of final reports in 88 cases was also approved during the period. The trial procedures of 21 cases were completed during the period, in which 10 people were jailed for different terms and 11 people got acquittal. The anti-graft watchdog inquired into 131 complaints among 2,058 received between January and March this year. The ACC submitted charge sheets in 45 cases against 172 people last month.
According to the ACC, corruption might have taken place in many organisations due to legal loopholes and enforcement weakness, depriving the people of services they deserve. Many government institutions have already become known to the commoners as key spots of corruption.
The ACC chairman claimed very recently that his institution would have a close watch over the corruption-prone departments of the government. The Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), while appreciating the new move of the anti-graft body, said positive outcomes might ultimately come out through such initiatives.
The ACC said the probe teams will, however, submit a report detailing regulatory situation in those institutions so that corruption could be checked in future. The anti-graft body vowed to unearth the sources of corruption at these institutions as the people very often fall victim of corruption there.
The targeted government institutions are: the Controller General of Accounts' office, Bangladesh Civil Aviation Authority, Bangladesh Biman, Bangladesh Road Transport Authority, Customs and VAT excise office, income tax offices, Department of Public Works, Department of Roads and Highways, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority, Dhaka WASA, Department of Narcotics Control, Bangladesh Railway, Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company and the Dhaka city sub-registry office.
Needless to say, the anti-graft body is in a complex situation, specifically in a context that witnessed a sort of race of high-profile corruption involving people in positions of power.
The ACC, in spite of lacking the constitutional status and many limitations of the Anti-corruption Act 2004 on the basis of which it was created, can potentially function independently according to the mandate given by the law. In practice, however, the experience of the period since it was created shows that the degree of its independent functioning depends on external as well as internal factors.
The ACC has, however, a chronic manpower shortage problem. Although there are a good number of staffs at its head office, under-staffing remains a big problem in other towns and cities. Some mid-level staff members have recently been directly recruited who appear to be enthusiastic. But their capacity needs to be enhanced to handle a large number corruption cases in which those who are involved are smarter and more endowed.
Contrary to the government's electoral commitment, a set of amendments to the Anti-corruption Act was introduced that could have further curtailed the independence and effectiveness of the Commission. But in the face of sustained resistance from the people and the civil society, the authorities eventually refrained from passing those amendments.
On the other hand, there is also a need for a mindset change in the leadership of such institutions. The ACC personnel must realise that they can expect nothing to gain from the government or powerful lobbies after the end of their tenures. The underlying truth is that all they stand to gain is public trust and credibility if they play their due role.