Curbing ACC powers would be wrong

Ali Imam Majumder | Update:

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) was formed in 2004 through an act of parliament. Given the manner in which corruption had spread extensively in all facets of society, the government passed this bill in parliament at the behest of the civil society and insistence of the development partners. With the inception of this institution, the former Anti-Corruption Bureau was abolished as it had proven to be ineffective.

Things were slow at the outset, as the commission had a lack of appropriate personnel. Later, however, it gained momentum and has been thus continuing on in fits and starts. This commission had been established as an independent and powerful institution, but it has failed to live up to expectations.

Needless to say, extreme centralisation of governance has prevented any institution, other than the government, from exerting its authority. Even so, we place hope in the Anti-Corruption Commission. They can do it.

The commission may not have been able to lessen corruption in the country, but at least corruption hasn’t increased. That itself is an achievement. It is the government’s responsibility to extend its cooperation to the commission and it is doing so. However, a third party at times intervenes and obstructs things from proceeding further.

A few years ago the anti-corruption commission act was amended, giving a degree of impunity to government officials accused of corruption. The High Court stayed that provision and the move was thwarted. And we are now taken aback by yet another move to curb the commission’s powers.

A law regarding government service has been pending for long. It is essential to ensure the accountability of the employees of the republic and also to protect their interests. There needs to be laws pertaining to their appointments, promotions, transfers, deputation, retirement, etc. The public service act drafted a few years ago had some such provisions. The present draft has some positive aspects. It includes provisions for their accountability and also to protect their interests.

In the first draft, there was provision for competitive exams in the posts of deputy secretary and joint secretary through the Public Service Commission. Seniority, annual confidential reports, educational qualifications and experience would also be taken into consideration. This provision could have prevented partisan bias, inter-cadre discrimination and excessive promotions. The draft also proposed to abolish the prevailing provision for the government to give compulsory retirement without any explanation upon completion of 25 years’ service. None of these provisions appear in the new draft. So the scope for protecting the public employees’ promotions and tenure has been reduced.

There are, though, certain positive provisions. Also, there is a provision that prevents arresting any government service holder on charges relating to carrying out his duties, before a charge sheet is issued. This would require the approval of the appointing authorities. There is need for certain legal safeguards for the employees of the republic while they are carrying out their duties. For example, after an eviction drive, certain persons try to file chases against the concerned magistrate, police officials and other departmental officials involved in the matter. When a truckload of contaminated mangoes is destroyed, the affected persons want to file for compensation. That is why Section 197 of the criminal code is in place, which protects the government officials from such actions.

Then again, all actions of the public servants are not part of their official duties. The criminal code is not to protect the employee in such cases. Similarly instances of corruption, such as taking bribes, are not a part of official duties. If corruption is undertaken to finalise some papers, it may be said that the work of official and so they should be protected. It was in consideration of such instances that the anti-corruption commission act was drawn up, excluding such crimes and criminals from protection.

The anti corruption commission is a specialised institution. Before any complaint is investigated, there is a selection process. Then during the investigations, detailed probes are carried out. Only after the commission then takes up the case and gives its approval, is a charge sheet issued. A commissioner can even approve of a trap being laid down. The commission does not normally arrest anyone without a case. It is a thorough process, though there have been occasion errors. The accused is given adequate scope for defence. So why should the commission have to wait for a certain time in the case of corruption charges against government officials? No one has such impunity, not the ministers or the members of parliament.

The new law may give a go-ahead to the corruption-prone employees of the republic. The anti-corruption commission chairman has said their independence will remain intact. We want that to be so. But if a law is formulated to curb that, then it cannot remain independent. The law hasn’t been enacted as yet. It will be discussed by the parliamentary committee and in parliament. It is expected that they will drop this provision from the new law.

Corruption is a social disease. Everyone spews out rhetoric against corruption. And the anti-corruption commission is the only institution in the country to control this disease. It is limping long and still has not learnt to fly. But if the new law retains the controversial provision, the commission’s wings will be clipped before it can fly.

* Ali Imam Majumder is former cabinet secretary and can be reached at majumderali1950@gmail.com. This article, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir

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