Thursday, July 5, 2012

Lesson from Padma Bridge fiasco

The World Bank Padma Bridge fiasco has proved at least one thing and that is that a majority of our politicians on both sides of the AL BNP political divide may not be above corruption.  Our records show that apart from Hussain Muhammad Ershad, none of the politicians have been subjected to serious investigation to determine their suspected dealings.  We were fortunate, up till now, that corruption issues were confined within the country.  Bangladesh being a relatively unimportant country in the global context, our corruption issues did not attract international attention and we were able to deal with international agencies normally and international participation in our development activities remained unaffected.

Corruption is not new to Bangladesh and can be traced a very long way back.  It is all pervasive and people have become so used to it that they become pleasantly surprised when in the rare events things happen without the need for speed money.  There is a school of thought that believes that it may have its origins in the need of the political parties to raise money to fund their activities.  There is no denying that political parties need money for their activities and as there is no transparent mechanism at the disposal of the political parties to raise funds, they are forced to resort to dispensing favours in exchange of money.  This translates into corruption in any language as we are only humans and are not beyond stretching this to line our own pockets.

New dimension
Then there are election expenses to be recovered.  Ever since the businessmen started flocking into politics, it added new dimensions to corruption.  Politics became business and elections became capital investment. Thus whichever party won the elections, all government activities and projects became trading commodities, appointments and transfers included.  Government procurement and development projects were obviously the cream.  Project and procurement cost inflation and commission on them are the main vehicles of corruption.  This is why whichever party wins the election, it must physically occupy the entire country.  Thus the importance of the front organisations whom neither AL nor BNP can do without.

The Padma Bridge incident is the first of its kind where a major international multilateral donor has taken corruption or rather intent to commit corruption into cognizance.  This information is now officially available to the nearly 200 member countries and organisations of the World Bank.  It is therefore very important for us to understand the issues involves as the ramifications of the WB charges may impact negatively on Bangladesh’s development activities both on short and long term basis.  The government must therefore take time to address each and every issue raised by the WB.

One issue that is confusing our officials is that why is the WB so worked up when no corruption has taken place as yet?  How can there be any charge of corruption when in fact no money has been released as yet against this head?  Unfortunately for us the rules of the game has changed considerably and no one now waits for any corruption to be committed and the money actually stolen and salted away,  it is sufficient if these is credible proof that there was an intent to commit corruption.  It is now incumbent upon the government to present credible proof the WB that there in fact was no intention on the part of any of its officials to commit corruption.  Failing this action must be taken to the fullest extent of law against all concerned to demonstrate that there is no place for the corrupt in Bangladesh.

Credible election
This is not a light matter and should not be taken lightly.  The credibility of the government depends on this.   The ability of Bangladesh to raise funds for its development activities at low cost is at stake.  But much more importantly, if the government can not satisfy the global community that there is no corruption among its functionaries, then it will indeed be very difficult for it to convince the world, let alone its citizens, that it can hold free, fair and credible national elections while staying in power.

BY :  M.I. Ali.