Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) Thursday expressed grave concern over increasing institutional and non-institutional pressure on the media.
It also condemned the irregularities and corruption in the health sector during the Covid-19 crisis and increasing violence against women and children and.
TIB members expressed their concern on the issues while attending its annual meeting organised virtually due to ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, says a press release.
Presided over by TIB's elected member Quazi Md Mortuza Ali, the meeting was conducted by TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman and attended by 44 members of various professions who are involved voluntarily with the anti-corruption social movement.
Speakers at the meeting said despite the promotion of free journalism, freedom of expression and free media in the country, in reality, every effort is being made to control the media in both institutional and informal ways. The arbitrary use of digital security laws has become a matter of great national and international concern.
"Under the pressure of various other laws, including the Digital Security Act, the media itself is being forced into self-censorship, which conflicts with the idea of an independent democratic state and especially the spirit of an independent Bangladesh," the TIB members observed.
They said pressure on the media is a bad omen for democracy, which is bound to be suicidal and boomerang. Therefore, the members urged the government and all concerned to open the way for free journalism immediately.
Commenting that the crisis in the corrupt health sector has deepened due to the pandemic, TIB members said, "New opportunities for corruption have been created by taking advantage of the pandemic situation. Instead of dealing with the virus, the government has given priority to controlling the activities and adopting a kind of restraint policy. As a result, information has been regulated and public access to health care has declined."
They also called for the expeditious distribution of incentives to all frontline health workers and ensuring the participation of non-governmental organisations as well as various government activities to assist marginalised and backward communities across the country.
In a statement issued at the end of the meeting, the members condemned the escalation of violence against women in Bangladesh and the spread of heinous crimes like rape due to lack of justice. In this context, the members strongly urged to ensure appropriate punishment for the perpetrators as an effective step to stop violence and rape against women and children.
At the meeting, speakers strongly urged for building a well-governed democratic Bangladesh through a healthy and secure banking system, stressing effective steps to control corruption to restore public confidence in the banking sector.
"We have to ensure the effective participation of young people in the decision-making process in tackling global disasters such as Covid-19 and achieving sustainable development goals; development of effective, accountable and transparent organisations," said participating members.
At the same time, they expressed deep concern over the failure of the Anti-Corruption Commission and other agencies to carry out their duties despite having sufficient legal basis to control the existing corruption in the country.
Members feel that the TIB's activities and research reports have been deliberately misrepresented at various times, which in turn appears to be an attempt to avoid liability. In this regard, TIB is committed to refraining from biased behaviour in conducting such activities, as well as the members of the organisation are committed to maintaining political neutrality in personal and professional life.
Noting the importance of effective, accountable and transparent institutions, the members said in an effective democratic system, the fair and impartial electoral system is said to be the first and essential element of accountability. One of the indicators of accountability to the people is the selection process. The lack of a strong role in establishing the accountability of the government is evident as the ruling party has gained an absolute majority through a questionable national election and is the main opposition to the rule of law.
On the other hand, the fact that the Election Commission is a constitutional body has probably been forgotten by those involved in the commission. In Bangladesh, where elections were once considered a festival, the current commission seems to have made arrangements to send them to museums.
In such a reality, the members demanded to ensure the impartiality, objectivity, efficiency and professionalism of the administration, law enforcement agencies, anti-corruption commission, judiciary, election commission and human rights commission.
Like the rest of the world, Covid-19 has caused extensive and deep wounds in the social and economic spheres of Bangladesh. Although it affects people from all walks of life and professions, the risk is especially high for young people. Their workplaces have shrunk as the employment fields of young people have been damaged in extreme conditions.
The vast majority of young people in Bangladesh lag in terms of access to new and innovative workplaces. In this case, the young society needs to create opportunities to acquire the necessary technical skills to adapt to the new reality.
At the same time, 20 of the 169 specific goals of the Sustainable Development Goals address youth directly. Therefore, as an active partner in achieving the SDGs, the meeting also called for creating a conducive environment for the youth to be able to make decisions, formulate policies and strategies, set action plans and play the role of implementers.
Recognition of the fact that state-owned or privately owned commercial banks do business with people's money is gradually losing recognition in Bangladesh. The responsibility of the Bangladesh Bank is to ensure the protection and protection of public deposits. They too have become a dysfunctional institution in controlling defaulted loans by succumbing to leadership inefficiency, political influence and pressure from debt defaulters.
Therefore, to overcome this crisis, it is essential to formulate a commission that is completely independent, neutral and free from the control of the government or the central bank, to formulate and implement strategies with short-, medium-, and long-term action plans.
The place of accountability in controlling corruption is stuck at such a stage that only trivial incidents are brought to light and the masterminds are out of reach. One incident is being suppressed by another new incident. This is because the influential people who are involved in these irregularities and corruption, whether direct or indirect in one way or another, have a source of political involvement.
In this case, the Anti-Corruption Commission and other concerned institutions have a responsibility. If the legal authority given to the institutions to curb corruption from above the identity and position of the individual is properly implemented, one corruption after another would not have taken place in the country.
The members also expressed concern over whether the position was taken by the Prime Minister against corruption and to ensure accountability would be limited to speeches only.
TIB has been recruiting various professionals and ordinary citizens who are interested in increasing public participation in anti-corruption social movement activities in Bangladesh. Also, around 7,000 citizens, most of them members of the younger generation, are involved in volunteering through the Socheton Nagorik Committee and the Youth Engagement and Support platform across the country.
TIB executive director Dr Iftekharuzzaman conducted the meeting while Kazi Md Mortuza Ali, elected representative of the members of the General Board of TIB, presided over. The members expressed their satisfaction over the overall activities undertaken in the meeting, including positive comments on the various activities conducted by TIB in the fiscal year 2019-2020, including research, consultancy and publicity, and the highest quality audit report of the respective financial accounts.