Rejecting liability doesn't automatically grant impunity

The former inspector general of police Benazir Ahmed is now the center of public discussion and debate because of a corruption record that defeats all imagination. Earlier he had been the centre of attention because of his immense power and his allegiance to the ruling party.

There was antagonism in the opposition against him because of his orders to the police to open fire on anti-government demonstrations and protests, and other such repressive measures. After being bestowed with top authority in enforcing the law on behalf of the state, he himself now is out of the reach of the law, say sources. This is evident from his failure to turn up before the Anti-Corruption Commission on the day summoned.


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Every day new allegations of corruption are arising against him and a there is smokescreen about his being abroad, yet our home minister Asaduzzaman Khan says, "The police will not take liability for Benazir Ahmed's personal crimes."  (BSS headlines 1 June 2024).

Such refusal to take responsibility sounded very familiar and so I turned to Google to check who said it and when they said it. You can check too and you won't be disappointed. The list of quotes may be very long and so it's best to refer to a select few.

Even after this precedence of using the police institution for illegal personal interests, the home minister gave impunity to the police. So the police officers or member of the force who illegally enforced his unlawful orders at the field level, will not be held accountable

Benazir Ahmed's predecessor former IG AKM Shahidul Haque made similar comments in 2016 when members of the police force was criticised for their involvement in all sorts of crimes. At a public meeting in Sylhet, he had said, "If a member of the police commits a crime, he is responsible, not my department." The other IGPs may similar comments during their tenures. But this time the home minister said that the offences of the police's top official are not the liability of the police force.

However, when he had been the head of RAB and of the police, Benazir had used members of both the forces. The police not only followed their chief's orders to scare members of the minority community and grab their land, but they guarded the land too. He used his power to grab land of the government's forest department in Gazipur too.

Even after this precedence of using the police institution for illegal personal interests, the home minister gave impunity to the police. So the police officers or member of the force who illegally enforced his unlawful orders at the field level, will not be held accountable.

Shahidul Haque's words are actually an acknowledgement of the equation in the relations between the police and politicians. A couple of years ago when he was speaking at the launch of his book 'Police Jiboner Smriti: Shoirachar Poton Theke Jongi Domon' (Memoirs of Life in the Police: From Fall of Autocracy to Controlling Militancy), he had said, the ruling party wants the police to do whatever they tell them to do. A member of parliament wants the OC to do as told. It is very difficult to carry out one's duty while facing such challenges and adversities." (Sangbad, 28 May 2022).

The ruling party now does not want to acknowledge any relations with those who were in charge of the country's security and law enforcement. That is why Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader now says that the former police IGP Benazir Ahmed, facing allegations of corruption, and the former army chief Aziz Ahmed, facing US sanctions, are not Awami League men. It is easy to sprout arguments that one can't be the member of the party while in government service.

But when, in order to be in the political government's good books, these senior officials display political bias towards the ruling party and allow the all sort of unlawful advantages, then the claim that "they are not our men" can hardly be anything than a desperate attempt to save one's own skin.

When the TV channel Al Jazeera aired the documentary "All the Prime Minister's Men," then the Awami League leaders and activists all wore "I am the Prime Minister's Man" badges. What was their objective? It is the very same allegations that are being discussed now, in a more extensive manner.

'Saving their own skins' has been quite a long standing ploy adopted by the ruling Awami League and the government. Think back to when stories of the crime and corruption of a few Dhaka city Jubo League leaders created a stir in the political arena. Even then we had heard Obaidul Quader saying Awami League won't take the liability of a handful of people.

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He had declared the government's stern stance against corruption that day, saying that steps would be taken against those who had drawn BNP and Freedom Party men into this large party, who had aided in their intrusion. This drive that Sheikh Hasina has taken up against corrupt persons will continue not just in Dhaka, but around the country, he said. (Bangladesh Protidin, 19 September 2019).

The common people are only too aware of whether corruption increased or decreased after this announcement of Obaidul Quader. In the studies of various institutions, including Transparency International's indicators, all point to the expansion of corruption, not decrease.

Within just a month of that, when Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) student Abrar Fahad was killed at the hands of Awami League's affiliated organisation Chhatra League, Obaidul Quader once again said, "If a handful of Chhatra League or Jubo League men commit crime, the entire organisation is not responsible. If any one carries out misdeeds in the name of the party, they will not be left off the hook." (bdnews24, 8 October 2019).

This contagion of shirking responsibility found its way into the parliament too, as exemplified by the former commerce minister Tipu Munshi. Everyone will remember the scams of E-valy and the other e-commerce companies at the time. There was a furor over their taking payment in advance, not delivering the goods and filching the money. The commerce minister then had said, why should the government take responsibility of the clients' losses?

He put the blame in the consumers instead, saying that they had invested in e-commerce companies in the hope of buying goods worth 100,000 taka at half the price. Did they inform the government then? He castigated the tendency to try and get goods at cheap prices. (Jugantar, 8 October 2021).

When a political party forms the government with the commitment and pledge to improve the people's lot and to lead in the development of the country, how can the refusal of the party and the government to take liability of such important matters be acceptable? If they do not want to take responsibility, they should relinquish their position of responsibility.                  

* Kamal Ahmed is a senior journalist

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

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