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Accountability And Bangladesh

Within days of his Oct 12, 1999 takeover, Pervez Musharraf established the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in Pakistan to ferret out the corrupt of the past and fight endemic corruption in the present. The culprits whoever they were would be held accountable, the money they had looted would be recovered. NAB mission statement has since been compromised, viz (1) partly because of political exigencies of the continuity of Musharraf’s rule but (2) mostly by the “plea bargaining” pretext used to let dozens of white-collar criminals walk free. This loophole in the regulations governing anti-corruption became a “highway” for corruption, with the accused and the accusers both comfortable in a corrupt embrace that undermined the whole concept of accountability as envisaged by Musharraf when launching NAB. The simple formula for those failing to reimbursing the govt exchequer with the looted money is to throw away the keys of the jail cell.

Those who bribe their way to getting things done must also be held accountable. The Chairman of the Board of Siemens had to resign when many of his colleagues were indicted in Germany for keeping secret “slush funds” meant for bribes. Indeed financial institutions and their executives involved with banking illegal funds should suffer the same consequences being equally culpable as those who stash stolen money, “black” money in a bank or “invested” does not make it legal. Some enterprising “entrepreneurs” have made a killing investing money for the corrupt in “mutual funds”, etc, “mutual funds” indeed!. “Private Banking” is nothing but a camouflage for illegal funds.

NAB needed to be kick-started and Lt Gen Mohammad Amjad as its first Chairman was the right person to do it,  once democracy of sorts had re-entered Pakistan’s body politic in 2002, he  should  have  been replaced by a retired judge of the Supreme Court. Accountability has to be a judicial process, only the judiciary can apply the laws of the land to sustain the credibility of the institution in democratic eyes. A retired Armed Forces officer of the rank of Lt Gen (or equivalent) could serve as Director General (DG) to sustain the process in an organized and effective manner. Lt Gen (Retd) Hasan Mahsud Chaudhry, formerly COAS Bangladesh Army, is the Head of the Anti-Corruption Commission in Bangladesh, the Army’s DS (Directing Staff) Solution for a mechanism to start the accountability process in Bangladesh like Amjad did in Pakistan. He comes from good stock, his cousin Nurul Hassan Khan (formerly Bangladesh Consul General in Karachi), who retired as a Secretary to the Bangladesh Government, is a person of impeccable honesty and integrity, one of the finest human beings one has been privileged to know.

Judges of the Supreme Courts and Armed Forces officers, serving and retired, should also be held accountable like anyone else. Excluding them from accountability compromised NAB’s effectiveness in Pakistan. Bangladesh should apply the “lessons learnt” and forgive nobody. Public perception in Pakistan recognizes that NAB has accomplished quite a feat, they also decry selected accountability, especially when NAB is used for political purposes. Selective accountability makes the whole exercise suspect in public perception.

The confessions of Tariq Rahman’s close friend, Mamun, about excesses reads like “ A Thousand and one Arabian Nights”, the sums looted by the BNP political elite quite phenomenal. The backdrop of the excesses is the dire poverty that engulfs Bangladesh, And what about the acquisition of wealth without known means of income? Without supporting evidence of income there is a prima facie case of not only cheating on personal taxes, or even perjury if the statement of income is declared incorrectly. If it was not declared in their income/wealth tax statements, NAB could have put offenders behind bars legally for many years, and then deal with them at leisure. Once you put the person away for 4-5 years on these counts alone, there will be enough time to ferret out the rest of the person’s ill gotten wealth. This simple expedience could have been used against thousands and thousands, NAB missed the opportunity in Pakistan. Bangladesh should not!

Tariq Rahman and Arafat Rahman are the sons of Late Gen Ziaur Rahman, admired by one and all as one of the most honest of persons that one has been privileged to know. Does Ziaur Rahman’s service to Bangladesh give his sons a license to loot the nation? And what of the character of the mother, Khaleda Zia, who looked the other way while her sons were robbing blind the country what about her responsibility to the electorate that made her Prime Minister? And why should we give Tariq Rahman special treatment because his mother brought him up as a spoilt brat? If the army’s hierarchy has any false sense of loyalty they should collectively take a walk every morning among the poor, hungry, shelterless of Bangladesh and look at the sheer helplessness in their desolate eyes. If they do not discover to whom their loyalty must be given, they are either blind or not true to the oath of allegiance they took. If the military hierarchy makes a political deal with the corrupt, whoever they may be, there is no hope for Bangladesh. If someone robs a house you put him in jail for a few years, white collar criminals who take advantage of their office and/or connections must go to jail multiply times many more years. And while we are at it let us not forget the arrogance of hypocrites like Saifur Rahman whose siblings were into looting the country big-time!

Bangladesh is at a peculiar crossroads in its nationhood, whether to carry out effective accountability before returning to full   democracy   or   let  public  pressure   hasten  the renewal of political activity and allow the corrupt to further corrupt an already corrupted system. It would mean disaster, it will affect the survival of tens of millions.  Given the temptations inherent and the exhortations of the motivated, the Army’s hierarchy has done well in staying within the Constitution and instead of acquiring direct power supporting civilian authority. The COAS Bangladesh Army, Lt Gen Moeen Ahmad, has stayed true to his word in not getting carried away by the opportunity to ride into town publicly as the country’s saviour, he must remain extra careful in not saying or writing anything that may give any inclination of political ambition in the future. Vested interest will not spare any opportunity to misconstrue good intention and undercut the credibility of the Army’s intention and role behind the scenes, this will erode their effectiveness. It is of the utmost importance that the Army’s reputation (and his) is not tainted by hint of personal ambition, except solely and wholly the well-being and future prosperity of Bangladesh.

Tariq Rahman’s case makes for a crossroads for accountability, if Ziaur Rahman’s sons are shown any leniency then the whole process of accountability will be compromised. The military hierarchy will then have no business holding anyone in Bangladesh accountable. Tariq Rahman and Arafat Rahman are acid tests for the Bangladesh Army. Fail to make them accountable and you have failed your uniform and your country!

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