Crime and corruption by Shamsuddin Ahmed

Crime and corruption by Shamsuddin Ahmed
IN a democracy, the entire state apparatus — the government, the higher judiciary, the police, the magistracy, the intelligence agencies — works in unison towards ensuring peace and prosperity of the country and, to that end, combating crime and corruption with the zeal and commitment of a crusade.

The civil society, the intelligentsia, the media, the highly conscientious citizens groups etc., do not lag behind. They also play a positive role in seeing to it that not only have the wrongdoers been punished but have also been seen to have been punished.

A time-honoured culture of being wedded to the ideals of truth and justice makes the educated people across the political spectrum look down upon what is morally wrong and legally unacceptable, even when it involves people of their own ilk. Quite naturally, it generates a healthy ambience where any aberration of the rule of law is condemned in the harshest possible language.

This makes it difficult for any wrongdoer, no matter how powerful and influential he or she may be, to face the people and the media without putting his or her career on the line. Seldom have we seen a politician or a social elite accused in the media of corruption and moral turpitude put up a brave face and say that he or she was innocent. Nor have we seen in the media any effort being made by people to even remotely suggest that the person indicted and facing trial on corruption charges is being victimised. Instead, we have seen very powerful people walk away in silence into obscurity because they felt it beneath their dignity to lie before the people. This is democracy.

Unfortunately for us in this country, democracy has always been an illusion, as has been the rule of law, since time immemorial. Our rulers, both political and military, promised democracy every time they assumed power, but ended up invariably throttling democracy during their rule and governing the country as if it were their family property or, at best, a limited company they could run as they wished.

The upshot has been the alarming degradation and erosion of our moral values and ethos, the bedrock of a nation to rest its claim upon, for nationhood or statehood.

To loot and plunder state wealth and property, and to lie before the people, has evolved as a code of conduct for the ruling class. Our rulers have always considered the people as a bunch of goats and sheep, who can be cowed down by police brutality and made to swear allegiance to the ruling class in return for a few crumbs thrown at them. In the process, they have thoroughly politicised and corrupted the whole lot of the state agencies geared to preventing and combating crime and corruption in the country.

They have not spared the civil society, the intelligentsia, the academics, the various professional groups, the media, etc., with the result that the presence of their camp followers is discernible almost everywhere.

The whole atmosphere is now vitiated. And, as a nation, we seem to be suffering from conceptual incongruities insofar as crime and corruption are concerned. Our age old values, ethics and norms, which we were once taught to cherish and live up to, are not there any more.

Our whole concept of crime and corruption seems to have changed, if you look at the behaviour of our ruling class. If murderers, rapists, smugglers, black marketers, listed criminals and people widely accused of being in possession of ill-gotten money and property could walk about freely both in and outside the corridors of power, as they indeed did over the last three decades or so, did we not get the impression that what we generally condemn as crime and corruption were not precisely so in the eyes of the government?

Maybe it is not a crime as such to murder or rape someone if the murderer or the rapist happens to be somehow politically aligned to the party in power. In the same vein, it is also not corruption if someone belonging to the ruling class grabs a piece of land, wins a lucrative government contract, charges a commission on every single import and export transaction, be it public or private, and so on. This is a prerogative of being on the hot seat of power. After all, in the olden days, much before democracy flourished it was a maxim that a king or a queen could do no wrong.

In the absence of monarchy, we have rulers who can also claim that what they do cannot be construed to be wrong.

Did very many people say with a loud voice during the Awami League rule that it was wrong for Sheikh Hasina as prime minister to have enacted a law entitling her to own the sprawling Gono Bhaban Complex, the then official residence of the prime minister, and her sister to own another house; and entitling both the sisters to enjoy state facilities of personal security, transportation, protocol etc., for as long as they would live?

Likewise, did many people raise a voice of protest when Begum Khaleda Zia chose to arrogate to herself the right to claim a highly inflated house rent allowance for living in her freely donated cantonment house, while there were suitable state houses available for the prime minister to live in?

If you have noticed carefully, pervasive corruption and crime have taken away our sense of shame and self esteem as individuals, and collectively as a nation. A corrupt man or woman in police custody does not hide his or her face as a man or a woman of dignity and honour would do. Instead, he or she flashes the V sign, and is all smiles as if he or she has earned a laurel.

And, as if this is not enough, he or she will lie in front of the people and the media without batting an eye, and say that he or she has done nothing wrong, despite having a few dozen bank accounts at home and abroad involving huge amount of transactions hardly commensurate with known source of income. This is our democracy.

There is no denying that there was an unprecedented surge in crime and corruption in Bangladesh over the last sixteen years, especially during the rule of the immediate past BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami alliance government. Our country topped the list of the most corrupt countries in the world for four years in a row.

There were a spate of bomb blasts, grenade attacks, and colossal amount of bloodshed across the country, by some misguided religious fanatics. No attempt was made by the government of the day to crack down upon the culprits and punish them. Why? Because the government and all other state agencies involved in dealing with crime and corruption were a party to it in one way or the other.

Now that this interim, non-political government headed by Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed has launched a genuine crusade against crime and corruption, and many hitherto high and mighty political leaders including Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia have been hauled up and are facing trial on specific charges of corruption brought up by the Anti- Corruption Commission, the familiar forces inimical to democracy, good governance, progress and prosperity and wellbeing of the people are again at work.

The discredited politicians and their cronies, beholden for favours received during the hey-day of political misrule, have stepped up a vilification campaign against the government.

The perennial power crisis, water scarcity, and price hike of essential food-stuff, the lingering legacy of corruption and inefficiency of the past political governments, have all been hyped up as grist to the mill for inciting public resentment against the government.

The objective is simple: To put pressure on the government not to punish and disqualify the corrupt political leaders for the next election, and to refrain from essential democratic reforms of the political system in vogue so that they can happily go back to the same merry-go-round politics of loot and plunder of yesteryears and condemn this country to the dust bin of history as a failed state and to

prove wrong the founding fathers and the millions of our liberation war martyrs who dreamt of a viable, secular and democratic welfare state for the people of this country.

Will this government bow down before the dark forces of crime and corruption, or will it go ahead with its pro- democracy and pro-people reform package? This is the million-dollar question.

original source | Brig. General Shamsuddin Ahmed is a former Military Secretary to the President of Bangladesh. | Link posted by Baduzzaman Khan

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