While the world is concentrating on combating the outbreak of coronavirus, Bangladesh is struggling to face a "triple pandemic". Covid-19, soaring numbers of sexual assaults and blatant corruption—all have combined to make it harder for Bangladesh to bounce back from economic meltdown resulting from the coronavirus. It seems all sectors, private and public, are infected with corruption. But is there any solution for this major stumbling block to Bangladesh's economic growth?
One would frown upon and be disgusted at the unprecedented level of corruption in Bangladesh in recent times despite the fact that the whole world is reeling under the most critical period perhaps in the last 50 years. Abdul Malek, a driver at Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), is accused of amassing wealth of at least Tk100 crore, as per a media report.
A report of Dhaka Tribune presents an even more astonishing account of this corruption. It says, Malek was involved in extorting money for the recruitment of over 100 health assistants for the country's upazilas (sub-districts) in 2009. He has 27 close relatives in different positions at the DGHS now, said a report published by The Business Standard.
What about the educated people? Have they mastered the art of corruption as well? Well, they are not far behind in the race of turning this crisis moment into a festival of corruption. Regent Hospital owner Shahed embezzled nearly Tk12.5 crore from various individuals and organizations, revealed Lt Col Ashique Billah in a recent press conference at RAB headquarters.
Apart from it, corruption has engulfed professionals as doctors too. Doctors are thought to be life savers, yet JKG Health Care Chairman Dr. Sabrina Arif Chowdhury has emerged as a life threatening character amid the pandemic. As reported by The Daily Star, Sabrina allegedly prepared 15,460 fake Covid-19 certificates and pocketed around Tk8 crore. Her actions not only pushed a number of people towards danger but also conveyed an oblique message to the nation.
Instances such as this can be found in droves if we look back as well. According to media reports by TBS news, Bismillah Group was accused of corruption of Tk1,200 crore back in 2013. Similar allegations were made against Farmers Bank officials for the corruption of Tk160 crore in 2014. Apart from these, Basic Bank was reported to be responsible for the corruption of Tk 4,500 crore in 2015. Crescent Group too was accused of Tk3,443 crore loan scam from Janata Bank in 2019. Corruption by educated people in various sectors has continued in 2020 as well.
In the Global Corruption Perception Index 2019 report conducted by the Berlin-based Transparency International shows, Bangladesh holds the 14th position among the most corrupt countries among 180 nations. The country's banking sector perhaps has witnessed the largest corruptions in the last five years.
Given these irregularities and unbridled corruption, Bangladesh is apparently unlikely to see the stable economic growth that the citizens expect. There are myriads of farmers who are starving for food and they are getting deprived of what they need merely due to the lack of money. Disadvantaged children are also being deprived of proper education and care because of insufficient funds.
Surprisingly, there are over two million youths who can't find proper jobs even after graduation. Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) reveals that 38.6 percent of university graduates are unemployed. Needless to say, the pandemic has resulted in thousands of job cuts, causing the unemployment rate to increase further. But once educated individuals are associated with this high volume of corruption, how can the education and job sector can see any improvement?
A large amount of money is being amassed by corrupt people instead of being spent on job creation, poverty reduction or better education of the underprivileged children. This unequivocally is driving the country 10 years backwards. If this vast amount of money, which was stolen by the corrupt individuals mentioned above, could be spent on mitigating the unemployment rate, the unemployment problem would probably reduce significantly.
Most noticeably, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by 2030 would remain a figment of imagination unless prodigious efforts are made to eradicate corruption. This is because a prosperous Bangladesh is next to impossible as long as poverty, hunger and corruption are not exposed and uprooted. Corruption is like a fire that burns out all other fields of development and thus brings about an array of setbacks which push a country backwards.
Is there not any remedy for this second pandemic of Bangladesh? Apparently, adopting a zero tolerance principle could be a way out to get rid of this massive impediment. If a person is punished and brought under custody regardless of his or her political, social and personal identity, it conveys a strong message to all: nobody will be exempted from proper judgment. This in turn will demonstrate a stringent law and order system before all the citizens, demoralizing them to set foot towards corruption.
More notably, letting an anti-corruption unit work independently without any government influence is an essential step towards putting an end to heinous crimes. As long as forces, organizations and individuals are not provided with the full freedom of identifying accused ones irrespective of political, religious, social and personal identity, this long lived virus is unlikely to be eradicated. Hence, there is no alternative to establishing transparency and accountability in both public and private sectors in order for corruption to fall or diminish.
As it stands now, Bangladesh is fighting three deadly viruses, corruption, rapes, and coronavirus. In the case of the pandemic, a vaccine is possible and it is in progress for the relief of humanity, but alleviating corruption necessitates a long-term goal coupled with the establishment of justice, accountability and transparency in every sphere of the country in order to build a better and prosperous Bangladesh.
Mahde Hassan is pursuing his bachelor's degree in English at East West University and works as a faculty member of IELTS at Saifur's Private Ltd. Email: email@example.com
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.