Bureaucracy, Corruption and our Law
Tasmiah Nuhiya Ahmed, Executive Editor, The New York Times,Bangladesh National Section:
Like many other South-Asian countries, Bangladesh has an innate colonial organizational structure categorized by exclusive, protectionist, non-responsive to political direction, political corruption, inconsideration and gripped leadership with sustaining its eminence and freedoms (Khan & Naziz, 2013:125). Bureaucracy plays a dominant role in the development of the society and it is the cornerstone of modern society. Bangladesh has seen bureaucrats having a continuous role in policy formulation and policy implementation since its birth.
The bureaucracy in Bangladesh is repeatedly apparent with the issues of corruption, nepotism, inefficiency, lack of accountability and transparency, etc. It is sometimes represented bureaucracy as an undesirable rather progressive facilitator to the progress of the country. Still bureaucracy plays traditional role and calls for a better system to meet the changing needs of the society. However this is also true that people are disappointed with their transparency and accountability.
Corruption is almost everywhere in Bangladesh. Yet corruption has been a part of our politico-administrative tradition. There is no denying fact that after independence the organs of corruption have surrounded the whole society. Not only the citizens have acknowledged it as a part of their daily life, but as well more terrifyingly, they sense themselves ineffective to speak about the phenomenon at any level of the state. It is generally recognized that nearly all types of corruption propagate in political and administrative life in Bangladesh. The most common form of corruption is financial bribes. The other forms of corruption are: misuse of authority, partiality, nepotism, deception, patronage, stealing and treachery. The level of corruption differs subject to how powerful a position, the individual civil servant holds. The civil servants have generally become habituated to lead a standard of living far outside their legal income. The citizens have believed the blatant truth that not anything changes without sufficiently satisfying the related civil servant (Khan, 2003:18-21).
The Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh finalised the draft of Bangladesh Civil Service Act 2017 keeping a provision stating that law enforcers will not be permitted to directly arrest any government official or employee accused of negligence in duty, graft or wrongdoing at work, or sued in a criminal case until a charge-sheet against him or her is accepted at court (“Civil Service Act with special arrest provisions finalized”, Dhaka Tribune, 13 March 2017). This has caused the critics and the civil society members to get concerned about what could be the motive of the Government for making this decision. As per the Dhaka Tribune report, dated 13 August 2017; in the cases mentioned above, an arrest will be followed by permission from authorities concerned and that too just for interrogation. But, there will be no bar to arresting the accused if a court accepts charge-sheet against them. The draft Bill also says that the government will not back any of its officials or employees up if they are sued over personal dispute or other criminal charges not relating to their job. In such cases, the law enforcers will not need any prior permission from the administration to arrest the accused. On July 13, 2015 another draft of the bill was placed before the cabinet without the provision of the government staff being arrested, even by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) before the accused are indicted. The ACC, according to the draft bill, could be empowered to book a government staff without permission from the authorities concerned, even before charges against the accused are framed.
In this regard, the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), an anti-corruption watchdog; said that despite the provisions of Article 197 (1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the provisions for the government’s permission to arrest before filing a charge and a case against an officer and employee on duty is discriminatory and contrary to the constitution (TIB for revising provisions of civil service act, The Daily Star, 13 December 2017).
If we closely observe the decision of the Government with regards to the proposed Civil Services Act 2017, we witness an extensive gap to be created between bureaucrats and general citizens. This gap usually is caused from the authoritarianism of bureaucrats. The use and explanation of instructions and rules emphasize their authoritarian personality. Their law coordination or negligence of it is frequently bothered for a common mass. Rules and regulations are rarely determined excepting upon tadbir regardless of their option to make sure of it (Jamil, 2007:20-21). This specifies that bureaucrats are more working in upholding the status quo rather than shifting the structure for the welfare of the masses.
The tendency to spot the whole thing undisclosed and keeps citizens in the shadowy position about resolutions taken by the civil servants existed in traditionalism with the vice regal method familiarized in India by the British. The administration was considered to work merely the regal concern. Therefore, the matters of transparency in administrative actions and assessments were neither appropriate nor significant in that specific situation. The decision making procedure in the civil service in Bangladesh is quiet, non-transparent in nature. Concerned citizens do not have any prospect to acquire about how specific conclusions have been attained. Nontransparent resolution making method has made it challenging to hold civil servants responsible for their decision making (Khan, 2013:58).
Given all these, our law is endorsing for increasing the gap between bureaucrats and general citizens even more than before. The proposed law is not going to reflect the recommendations from TIB as well as mentioned in the Daily Star Report (referred above). More importantly, time has come to realize that a strong political will to fight corruption is a must, and institutions of accountability and rule of law must be allowed to function independently and effectively, free from partisan influence. Even if the proposed amendments come into force, effective investigation of corruption shall be a must to prevent corruption where investigators would play meaningful role. Our overall objective should be to strengthen democratic institutions and bring qualitative changes to improve governance. We must always remember our constitutional commitments and uphold democracy and for this we have no alternative other than having an accountable and transparent bureaucracy.