Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Azmal Khan: A whistleblower against corruption

Though there are a lot of good people available in Bangladesh, who are ready to tell the public or someone in authority about alleged dishonest or illegal activities occurring in a government department or private company or organization, but the whistle blowing comment I am unable to bear the burden any longer, made by Azmal Khan, Suranjit Sengupta's ex-assistant personal secretary (APS) Omar Faruq Talukder, carried a very clear message.

What are the right things to do when there is violation of a law, rule, regulation and/or a direct threat to public interest, such as fraud, health/safety violations, and corruption? The answer is not too hard. We have more than a moral imperative to step forward and expose those malfeasances.

Whistleblowers like Azam Khan are ordinary people who find themselves as observers of situation that force them into a decision of having to speak out. But the road to victory or justice is generally rocky and not without consequences for the whistleblowers. He/she can suffer ostracism, the loss of resources, income and a job, and depression. And the severe consequences would be the loss of life either of him/her or any one of his/her family.

Azam Khan's whistle blowing story began in the night of April 9, 2012, while he drove APS Faruq's microbus into Pilkhana, the headquarters of Border Guard Bangladesh, and blew the whistle that there was illegal money in the vehicle. According to the source of various news media at that time and also his recent appearance in a private TV channel in Bangladesh on October 04, 2012, Azam Kham dauntlessly said that the Tk 74 lakh stashed in their car was being taken to the then railway minister Suranjit Sengupta's house. Those bribe money had been collected from railway jobseekers.

That money was the small part of the whole recruitment business. Apart form APS Faruq, the syndicate was compiled with railway's the then general manager (east) Yusuf Ali Mridha and Dhaka division security commandant Enamul Huq to conduct the whole recruitment process to collect Tk. 10 crore for the minister from the recruitment business. Azam further said that one army officer was involved in the recruitment business and he wanted to appoint several hundred job seekers in a Tk. 3 crore recruitment deal.

Bangladesh earned the bad name -- 'the most corrupt country' -- for several years. The policymakers, particularly those among the politicians, have so far responded very little to bring about positive changes in this situation, as many of them are widely perceived to be involved in the process thereof. Corruption is endemic in Bangladesh, and greed seems to be limitless. We are not saying that the corruptions only lie in Bangladesh.

Bradley Birkenfeld approached to the US Department of Justice in 2007, offering to reveal the inner workings of UBS's (the giant Union Bank of Switzerland) international private-banking division, where he had worked for five years. Some of the details that emerged raised eyebrows, including the revelation that bankers had used toothpaste tubes to smuggle diamonds across borders for clients. Having long turned a blind eye to these sorts of shenanigans, the America's government came down heavily on UBS. In 2009 the bank avoided criminal prosecution by agreeing to pay a $780m fine to the Internal Service Revenue of US (IRS).

Rod Blagojevich, former Illinois Governor in US, is now behind bars for serving his 14-year sentence on corruption charges. He was convicted on 18 counts, including charges that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat. FBI wiretaps revealed a fouled-mouth Blagojevich describing the opportunity to exchange an appointment to the seat for campaign cash or a top job as "f------ golden." The ruling was against him to bring unethical or illegal practices to the forefront and addressing them before they become fatal to an organization as well as to the whole system.

It is part of the moral complexity that whistles blowers presuppose that somewhere there is someone with appropriate authority who will appreciate the moral importance of the disclosure and will respond accordingly. Azam Khan appealed to the head of the government and expected that the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, whom he believes is against the corruption, wouldn't go corrupted people unpunished.

In her recent speech in UN General Assembly in New York, Sheikh Hasina renewed her demand for reforming the United Nations, the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international financial institutions (IFIs). It is good to raise questions about their 60-year-old power equations functionalities. But the reform should start from home. Gross ethical violation in Bangladesh in different regime has been prevailing. Unscrupulous and corrupt personnel in every sphere of the society are creating violation of rules and regulations frequently.

As far as reform is concerned, proper means'what we called the good beginnings are as necessary as worthy ends. We may not bear to be told to wait for good results, but we pine for good beginnings.

After signing and ratifying UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) on February 27, 2008, Bangladesh entered into a legal obligation to put in place a framework of action plan to deal with a wide array of corrupt practices, develop national institutions to prevent corrupt practices, prosecute offenders, cooperate with other governments to recover stolen assets, and help each other through technical and financial assistance to fight corruption, reduce its occurrence and reinforce integrity.

Some people may believe that someone shouldn't bite the hand that feeds him/her and insist on staying on for the banquet. Supporters of Awami Legue may already start thinking Azam Khan as a rising threat to them, but whistle Blowers like him are considered as "saviors" who ultimately helps create important changes in the systems.

IRS in US agreed to pay former UBS banker Bradley Birkenfeld $104m for his role in exposing the giant Swiss bank's efforts illegal in America but not in its home country to help American taxpayers hide money in offshore accounts. Like Birkenfeld, Azam Khan may not end up with a heavy reward or a smooth exit deal from his opponents, but the situation he has addressed will encourage millions of people to stand against corruptions.