Iftekharuzzaman
Iftekharuzzaman

The prime minister has termed the pandemic a national calamity. And it is at this time of pandemic that good governance, transparency, accountability and the prevention of corruption are of utmost importance. We have been drawing the government’s attention to this from the very outset of the crisis. And we see reflection of this in the prime minister’s words, too. She said that corruption will not be tolerated in any programme related to managing the disaster. And yet the national budget presented during the calamity is quite the contrary. We see a disappointing stance directly supportive of corruption.

In the name of reviving the economy, increasing revenue, attracting investment and generating employment, once again scope has been increased to whiten black money, that is, wealth from undisclosed sources. A proposal has even been made to legalise money illegally siphoned from the country by paying a 50 percent tax.

We want to hope that the government realises the great risks involved and moves away from this suicidal stand. We want to believe that the government is still not held hostage by a handful of vested interest groups.

It does not seem that those who prepared the budget took the rule of law or international commitments into consideration when clearing such serious crimes simply by imposing a tax. No matter what explanations may be offered to justify this move, this will result not in control, but in a celebration of capital flight. These budget proposals are supportive of corruption, self-contradictory, discriminatory and unconstitutional.

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Along with the housing sector, this time purchasing land and investing in the share market is being used to legitimise ill-gotten wealth. Not only is the scope widening for this, but there is even talk of rendering ineffective the provision of the Anti-Corruption Commission or any other authority to question the source of such wealth. Such a proposal is totally unacceptable. On one hand there is the prime minister’s declaration of ‘zero-tolerance’ towards corruption and on the other there is the legitimising of undisclosed income, in other words ‘black money’. This not only self-contradictory, but directly supportive of corruption and an insult to the prime minister’s commitment.

Such facilities, proffered year after year, have never bode well for the economy, never drawn in significant revenue and never have brought in investment either. On the contrary, dishonesty has been given indulgence and the government’s anti-corruption stance has been questioned.

This measure which is a violation of Article 20 (2) of the constitution, is discriminatory against the citizens who earning their living by honest means. Such persons earning honest livings have effectively been blocked from entering these sectors where such facilities are being directly offered. On the other hand, the government is encouraging the public towards corruption by giving licence to crime and corruption.

We want to hope that the government realises the great risks involved and moves away from this suicidal stand. We want to believe that the government is still not held hostage by a handful of vested interest groups.

Do we then have to think that the quarters indulging in, supporting and protecting corruption are so powerful that they do not hesitate to prove the prime minister’s commitment to be meaningless?

In the meantime, COVID-19 has revealed the pathetic state of the health sector. This fragile state of the health sector did not come about overnight. Year after year, inadequate funds, lack of good governance and unbridled corruption has brought disaster down upon the sector. The focus was so much on procurement and the infrastructure sector, in order to accumulate wealth with the help of vested quarters, the matter of improving the health infrastructure and quality of service was totally overlooked. Just as allocations to the health sector were neglected, the lion’s share of the allocations went to the public administration.

It had been expected that in this budget austerity measures would be adopted in government purchases and that there would be specific guidelines to prevent corruption. It was also hoped that there would be directives to prevent corruption in the social safety net and employment programmes for the poor and that transparency and accountability would be ensured.

The people do not want to see relief and cash assistance programmes for the ultra poor once again being riddled with inhuman corruption, such as the corruption in the scandalous government procurement of N-95 masks or the shameless purchase of pillows, kettles and curtains at exorbitant prices.

People want to see an effective implementation of the declaration of zero tolerance against corruption. Yet the budget bore the message of further protection to the corrupt and further prevalence of injustice. Do we then have to think that the quarters indulging in, supporting and protecting corruption are so powerful that they do not hesitate to prove the prime minister’s commitment to be meaningless?

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

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