Awami League in the appointment process of the Anti-Corruption Commission

On 10 April the government formed a five-member committee to select and recommend a competent person for a vacant post of commissioner in the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). According to the circular issued by the cabinet division, the committee, headed by Justice M Enayetur Rahman of the Appellate Division, also comprises Justice JBM Hasan of the High Court, Comptroller and Auditor General Mohammad Muslim Chowdhury, Chairman of the Public Service Commission Md Sohrab Hossain, and the immediate past cabinet secretary Kabir bin Anwar.

To the apparent eye, there should be no objections to this committee formed in accordance to all the rules and regulations. After all, the Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2004, Section 7(1), states, "(1) In order to make recommendation for the appointment of commissioners, a Selection Committee of five members shall be constituted as follows,: (a) A Judge of the Appellate Division, nominated by the Chief Justice; (b) A Judge of the High Court Division, nominated by the Chief Justice; (c) The Comptroller and Auditor General of Bangladesh; Prepared by International Business and Technical Consultants 4 (d) The Chairman of the Public Service Commission; and (e) The latest retired Cabinet Secretary."

The act adds a further clarification regarding the former cabinet secretary, "Provided that, if the above-mentioned retired Cabinet Secretary is not available or declines the appointment, then the retired Cabinet Secretary who immediately preceded him shall be appointed. It is further provided that, if the above-mentioned retired Cabinet Secretary is not available or declines the appointment, then the current Cabinet Secretary shall be appointed."

In order to keep the ACC above political debate, the act has no scope for representation of any political party, ruling or opposition. But in reality, the immediate past cabinet secretary Kabir bin Anwar in the meantime has become active in Awami League politics. He was less than three weeks in the office of cabinet secretary when he went on LPR. And within three days be was given an important responsibility within Awami League.

The room in the political office of the Awami League secretary which he has occupied since 5 January, was the room of the late HT Imam. HT Imam was the prime minister's political advisor and co-chairman of Awami League's election management committee. Speculations arose in the media that he would be getting that post. On that day, the party's general secretary greeted him with a bouquet of flowers.

Two days after that, 'Protidiner Bangladesh' quoted Kabir bin Anwar as saying, about his Awami League duty, "The elections are ahead. The Awami League president and the prime minister has given me certain responsibilities. I have begun carrying out those responsibilities from the party office."

He was unwilling to go into details about what responsibilities the Awami League president has bestowed upon him. Meanwhile, the media raised the question on whether a person on LPR, receiving salary and benefits from the state, could join politics. Perhaps it was because this question arose, or for any other reason, that the party has not made any announcement regarding his being given this responsibility. But whether any announcement is made or not, the fact remains that he has become involved with Awami League.

The ACC act has provision for him to move away from the selection committee. But there is no sign that he will display such magnanimity to move away voluntarily. So the bottom line is that there is political representation in this selection committee. In various countries efforts are made to keep these posts free from political influence so that these institutions are independent and free of government control.

If there is political representation there, then there must be equal representation from the ruling party and the opposition in order to maintain a balance. That was the actual objective of our law. The judiciary, the Controller General ­of Accounts and the Public Service Commission -- these three are constitutionally separate from the executive and are, in theory, independent. And when the provision was drawn up to include the last cabinet secretary, surely the lawmakers did not think that a bureaucrat in in the highest post of public service would become active in a political party so soon after retirement.

Some may try to dismiss the matter by saying what difference can one politically active individual made in a committee of five?

But it cannot be said that a person who have been given 'special party responsibility' by the prime minister, will have no influence on the committee. In fact, it is possible for this committee to take a decision, sidestepping the views of two judges. After all, Section 7(4) of the Anti-Corruption Commission Act states, "In order to make recommendations for the appointment of commissioners, the Selection Committee on the basis of the decision of at least three members present shall make a list of two names for each vacant post of commissioner and shall send the list to the President for appointment."

The opposition, BNP in particular, has long been complaining that the ACC has been used politically. Repeating this allegation at a press conference on 15 April, BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said, the Anti-Corruption Commission has become the Anti-BNP Commission. And then again there are the long-standing allegations of inordinately long and delayed investigations and trials when it comes to persons of the ruling party camp.

The people's expectations and perceptions that the members of the commission would keep themselves away from party loyalties and politics, has also proven to be wrong. A former commissioner, upon completion of his tenure, became active in Awami League politics and was made member of the council of advisors too. It does not seem that the lawmakers could conceive that after serving in the commission, it was possible to join the party actively. If so, they would have ensured that the law prohibited this.

It is difficult to discern the long-term implications of political influence on the appointment process that this this new precedent will usher in. There is no saying what far-reaching impact there will be from this politicisation of an independent institution, all done under the cover of the law.

* Kamal Ahmed is a senior journalist and columnist

* This column appeared in the print an online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir