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The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has arrested some 799 people in corruption cases between September 2020 and 2016, according to ACC records.

As many as 390 arrested persons are government officials.

Of the remaining, 154 persons are from different banks, 23 from non-banking financial institutions, 197 from different professions including businesses and 35 public representatives.

Five years ago, the government had raised the basic salary of the government officers and employees by 91 to 100 per cent with an expectation that the corruption will decrease.

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Speaking to Prothom Alo, public administration ministry secretary Shaikh Yusuf Harun said, "If half of the 799 persons arrested in graft cases are government officials, there is another half on the other side."

According to ACC assessment, the corruption has increased in different government offices including the health sector.

The situation turns so that the ACC has to form 25 teams based on organisations to prevent the corruption.

A separate unit has been constituted for the management of illegal wealth relating to ACC cases. ACC unearthed sources of corruption in government offices and service centres, and specific recommendations have been sent to 15 ministries to prevent corruption.

During the pandemic, most of the people ACC summoned, interrogated and sued on charges of corruption in the health sector are government officials. The remaining are businessmen in this sector.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, ACC chairman Iqbal Mahmud said there is no doubt that there is corruption in delivering government services. The big reason for increasing corruption is flaws in the management system.

He said, "A person is not an issue if the system is a pro-people. When a person sees it takes a long time to receive service, he looks for different ways to get his work done."

Public administration ministry secretary Shaikh Yusuf Harun observes that integrity strategy should be implemented to reduce corruption at the government offices.

He said, "We take departmental action and suspend the government officers and employees who are caught for corruption. The public administration implements the integrity strategy. It is not like that the corruption does not take place despite that. The ACC has to be strengthened."

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97 per cent small corrupts

Of the arrested corrupt persons, 97 per cent of them are lower-level government officers and employees and public representatives. Top bureaucrats, ministers, MPs and influential persons are rare on the ACC list.

Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) executive director Ifthekharuzzaman said this information proves that ACC is giving priority on low and mid-level officers and employees. The instance of bringing high-ups to justice is very rare.

The ACC recently arrested and remanded Director General of Health Services (DGHS) driver Abdul Malek and staff Afzal Hossain on charges of corruption in the health sector. Some 25 people have been summoned on charges of corruption in the health, and most of them are lower level staff. Despite huge outcry and criticism, BASIC Bank former chairman Abdul Hye Bacchu has not been charged in corruption case.

The ACC chairman said, "The big people may be few in number. The general people are affected by lower level officers and employees."

"The high-ups do corruption tactfully. Their work is done through record file. I realise they induge in corruption, but do not find anything in the records. If I file a case, how I will prove in the court if nothing is found in the files?"

79,365 complaints, 1,211 cases

According to ACC annual reports of five years, some 10,415 complaints were filed in 2015. As many as 21,371 complaints were filed in the last year.

ACC sources said the organisation received 79,365 complaints, and after scrutiny, selected some 6,159 complaints for investigation. Some 1,211 cases have been filed.

Besides, out of its jurisdiction, ACC has sent 6,161 complaints to different ministries for taking action.

Rate of awarding punishment

Whatever the ACC says and publicises about tackling corruption, people are doubtful that the accused are eventually punished.

ACC, however, claims the rate of punishment is increasing. The rate of punishment was 37 per cent in 2015, it increased to 54 per cent in 2016, the rate was 68 per cent in 2017, 63 per cent 2018 and 63 per cent in 2019. In the current year, some 92 cases have been settled. The accused have been acquitted in 21 cases and accused have been punished in 71 cases.

ACC lawyer Khurshid Alam Khan said, "This rate of punishment is not bad in the trial court. This should be hundred per cent. But the question is how far we can deal with the cases at the Appellate Division."

Sources concerned said it takes a long time to dispose the cases up to the AD. Accused are acquitted due to weakness in the investigation.

Khurshid Alam said said it is very tough to prove corruption in the court if the investigation is not carried out properly. The strategy of financial corruption has changed. The logistic support and ACC's money laundering unit has to be strengthened and the quality of investigation has to be increased. More skilled prosecutors have to be recruited.

Big corrupts not under ACC rudder

Despite expiry of license validity, an agreement was made with Regent Hospital to conduct coronavirus tests. Regent group chairman Md Shahed was arrested on charges of fraudulence.

The health minister, secretary and DGHS DG were present at the signing ceremony. But ACC did not find fault with them.

The ACC does not want to bring charges against those for which the government may be displeased.

TIB executive director Ifthekharuzzaman said, "I think ACC has drawn a line among themselves. They do not want to go above the line. If they do, their hands will be burned."

If not in good book of government

Analysts and critics said the ACC becomes active against those who are not in favour of the government.

For example, after the casino scandal, a case was filed against Dhaka Metropolitan Jubo League leader Ismail Hossain Chowdhury Samrat and an investigation was opened against JL chairman Omar Faruk.

Cases were filed against former minister Abdul Latif Siddique, former state minister Abdul Manan Khan and former MPs AKM Abdul Awal and Abdur Rahman Badi.

ACC chairman Iqbal Mahmud said, "I don't agree. Maybe there are some coincidences. Maybe we did not act the way we should have acted."

Opponents in disfavour

Most of the BNP leaders including chairperson Khaleda Zia are accused in ACC cases. Khaleda Zia has been jailed for 17 years in two corruption cases.

BNP central co-office secretary Taiful Islam said most of those, who were in the BNP-led alliance government in 2001, have been sued by the
ACC. About one hundred leaders are accused in ACC cases.

Observers said many people involved in massive corruption in the banking sector, public procurement and grabbing land, rivers and water bodies are being acquitted due to political reasons.

*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.