How Bangladesh could fare better in combatting corruption

Iftkharuzzaman | Update:

Screenshot of Corruption Perceptions Index 2017, published on the website of Transparency InternationalBangladesh has scored 28 on a scale of 0-100 according to the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2017 released by Transparency International (TI) on February 22, 2018. The score is two points higher than that of 2016, which ranked Bangladesh 17th from below, two steps better than the previous year's position of 15th. Counting from the top we are at 143, which is also an improvement of two steps from 2016.

Notwithstanding this upward movement, Bangladesh remains well below the global average of 43, which is considered an indicator of moderate success in controlling corruption. Moreover, among the eight South Asian countries, we continue to be the second worst after only Afghanistan. Among 31 Asia-Pacific countries, we are the fourth lowest, with only Afghanistan, North Korea and Cambodia in worse positions.

As in several recent years, Bhutan has performed best in South Asia with a score of 67, ranked 26th from the top in the global list, followed by India ranked at 81 scoring 40, Sri Lanka at 91 scoring 38, Maldives at 122 with 33, Pakistan at 117 with 32, Nepal at 122 with 31 and Afghanistan at 177 with 15. At the global lowest position is Somalia having scored 9. Other countries that scored lower than Bangladesh include South Sudan (12), Syria (14), Yemen (16), Sudan (16), Libya and Iraq (18). The score of all South Asian countries other than Bhutan is below the global average of 43, meaning that corruption remains their key common challenge. 

Launched in 1995, CPI provides international comparison of countries by perceived prevalence of corruption. It is a survey of surveys conducted by reputed international organisations. Information used in CPI relates to corruption in the public sector, particularly political and administrative; conflict of interest; unauthorised payment in the delivery of government functions, especially justice, executive, law enforcement and taxation. The government's capacity to control corruption is also considered.

Surveys that provide internationally comparable data are only considered. No nationally conducted research study or surveys like those done by TIB or any other national chapter of TI are used in the CPI. At least three international surveys are needed for a country to be included in the index. It is produced by researchers of TI Secretariat in Berlin, based on a methodology designed by experts from Department of Statistics and Political Science of Columbia University and Bocconi University of Milan. Scores and data are reviewed and validated by experts from the German Institute of Economic Research and Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, Mexico.

Data for Bangladesh came from the Economist Intelligence Unit Country Risk Assessment, World Economic Forum Executive Opinion Survey, Bertelsmann Foundation Transformation Index, Global Insight Country Risk Ratings, Political Risk Services International Country Risk Guide, World Bank Country Policy and Institutional Assessment, World Justice Project Rule of Law Index and Varieties of Democracy Project. The data period was 2016-17.

The best performer is New Zealand having scored 89 followed by Denmark with 88. In the third place having scored 85 are Finland, Norway and Switzerland. Singapore and Sweden are at number 6 with a score of 84, while in the 8th position are Canada, Luxembourg and the Netherlands with 82, and Germany at 12th position with 81. Other than Singapore, Hong Kong (77) and Japan (73) are the only Asian countries in the top 20.

No country has scored 100 percent. Developed countries like Australia, Iceland, Belgium, Austria, Ireland, US, France, Spain and Italy scored less than 80 percent. Russia is at 135th position with a score of only 29 and China at 77th with 41. As many as 124 (69 percent) countries scored below 50; 107 countries (59 percent) scored less than the global average. Thirty-three countries scored the same as in 2016.

In South Asia, the score has increased by two points in Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Nepal alongside Bangladesh. India, Pakistan and Afghanistan have attained the same score, whereas the score of Maldives has gone down by three points. In 2016, 63 countries scored higher than 2015 whereas this time 81 countries have scored more than the previous year. Sixty-one countries have scored lower than the previous year compared to 71 in 2016. Countries that have scored lower than the previous year include such high-performers as New Zealand (1), Denmark (2), Finland (4), Switzerland (1) and Sweden (4).

Corruption clearly remains a major global problem. Despite some minor improvements, the challenge has been worsening. The problem is relatively more acute in developing countries. To recall, Bangladesh was earlier placed at the bottom of the list for five successive years from 2001-2005. Somalia has now been ranked at the very bottom for the 11th successive year.

In the eleven years since 2006, Bangladesh's score and ranking have been improving unsteadily and at a snail's pace, and remain far below the achievable level. Factors that may have prevented better performance include persistent deficit of political will in delivery consistent with pronouncements against corruption. Barring a few exceptions, those who are involved in corruption, especially the powerful, are hardly brought to justice. Status, identity and links are often more important determinants than people's alleged involvement in corruption.

People in powerful positions had no qualms in justifying the deficit on the ground that the alleged were “our people”. Protection of the corrupt coupled with a denial syndrome is promoting a culture of impunity. There is much to be desired about the effectiveness of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) which has been perceived to treat the high and mighty as off limits. The institutional structure of accountability has been severely weakened by monopolisation of the political space.

Grabbing of land, forest, river and water bodies as well as perennial loan-default and other forms of plunder in banking and financial sector have been politically patronised. Bribery was declared as “speed money,” not corruption, while collecting bribe “within certain limits” was encouraged. Unauthorised payments for public services have become a way of life. Bangladesh remains prominent for unabated illicit financial outflow. The opportunity to legalise black money has continued to make corruption a rewarding practice.

The prospect of doing better in the CPI will depend on the degree to which laws, rules and policies are effectively enforced. Corruption must be made a punishable offence not only on paper but also in practice without fear or favour, irrespective of the identity and status of persons. Institutions of accountability must be allowed to function independently and effectively free of partisan influence. The parliament must be able to discharge its mandated role to hold the government to account. Full independence of the judiciary must be ensured. There is no alternative to creating an environment for the ACC, the Financial Intelligence Unit, National Board of Revenue, Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General and Attorney General to work independently and effectively.

Conducive environment must be created for media and civil society to strengthen the demand for accountability. While the government has taken a commendable step to officially observe the International Anti-Corruption Day, it has also enacted and drafted legal provisions to curtail the space for media and civil society. Restricting freedom of speech, opinion and association is among the most effective means for corruption and a culture of impunity to flourish. Conversely, the more the space for media and civil society, the better the scope of effective corruption prevention and control.

* Iftekharuzzaman is the executive director at Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB).

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