Two high officials of the Power Division, allegedly, received a staggering amount, $80 million (nearlyTk 64crore) to be exact, as bribe from a Spanish company for helping the latter in securing the contract for setting up a 450 megawatt power unit at the Ashuganj Power Plant. The officials, reportedly, instead of bringing the bribe money home got the same transferred to the US with the help a US citizen of Bangladesh origin and invested a part of it in two houses, one apartment and luxury cars.
The officials could have brought the money to Bangladesh for investing, among others, in real estate with no one asking any question about the source of a large fund. Such an action on their part and others involved in amassing wealth illegally, it seems, would have helped the local realtors to come out of a difficult time, in terms of business turnover.
The reason behind finding a link between bribe-taking by two government officials and investment of tainted money in domestic real estate gets noticed from a few observations made by the leaders of the Real Estate and Housing Association of Bangladesh (REHAB) at a media briefing recently.
It does appear from the statement made by the head of REHAB that the realtors are tremendously disturbed by the questions asked frequently by the anti-graft body, the Anti-corruption Commission (ACC), about the people making investment in flats, apartments and land.
The REHAB leaders said the letters sent by the ACC to realtors seeking information about the property ownership of individuals create panic and depress the housing market. They also felt that the ACC action also neutralised the government's provision to whiten undeclared wealth by investing in real estate.
The Finance Act provides for investment of undeclared money earned through legal means. But the REHAB feels that such funds are failing to enter the real estate market due to questions being asked by the ACC. The REHAB president at the media briefing requested the ACC not to issue letter in 'wholesale manner' as it creates panic in the market.
But it seems improper to look at the ACC actions in the light of the legal provisions that allow investment of legally earned undeclared income in real estate. The law creates scope for regularising undeclared yet legally earned money by paying tax, of course, with penalty.
The NBR is neither legally mandated nor in possession of resources and manpower to investigate the source of money or income that a taxpayer declares. Had it been given that task, it would have found itself in a deep distressing situation.
The ACC has been created to investigate corruption and also the corrupt elements, notwithstanding the fact that successive governments were unwilling to create such a body. They have created one, finally, coming under pressure from the civil society members and powerful multilateral lenders.
But the performance of the anti-graft body has been far short of people's expectation. More than a decade has gone by, but the ACC has not yet been able to prove its worth. Its public image is also not that bright, partly for its inaction against many suspected high profile corrupt elements and partly for toeing a few hidden agenda of the power-that-be. Besides, there is a strong suspicion that a section of the officials of the Commission are deficient in at least two priority prerequisites--- honesty and integrity---for working in any anti-graft organisation.
However, lately, there have been a few expression of uneasiness over activities of the ACC. This could be considered a positive change in the operation of the ACC. The inertia that used to be noted in ACC even a couple of years back is, apparently, diminishing.
But the anti-graft body, many tend to believe, is somewhat selective in its actions against corruption suspects. It could be due to interference from influential quarters.
For instance, the ACC is yet to initiate any investigation in the alleged involvement of some key persons in a number of bank loan-related scams. The banks in question are all state-owned.
Corruption being systemic is a serious problem for Bangladesh, said the visiting chairman of the Transparency International, the Berlin-based global anti-graft body, during a recent visit to this country.
No outsider does need to tell that the graft is a very serious problem in this country. People do encounter this predicament every day and become a part of this social menace because they have no other option left.
However, demanding any spectacular results from the ACC in isolation would not be anyway realistic. Political will is the number one prerequisite when it comes to addressing the problem of corruption in any country, rich or poor. If a government means business in the matters of combating graft, only then the people can expect some results. Otherwise, any change in ground situation is very much unlikely.
Still then, the ACC is trying in a limited way, it seems. It should proceed and try to enlarge its current drive, ignoring the discomfort that its actions are causing to some people and organisations.