Photo: Peter Richardson
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is reportedly going through another spell of watering down in the cabinet. The fresh amendments being made to the ACC will be made into law once they are passed in parliament. And if that happens, the government servants will become sacrosanct, out of reach of the ACC. It will then need prior permission from the government before filing any case against any official or employee of the republic.
Who would then remain within the ambit of the ACC? Who else other than the poor commoners, who are forever exposed to the elements?
Another very strange aspect of this amendment is that it is being kept under strict secrecy. Stranger still is the cabinet secretary's plea that making those public will confuse the public! Are the public already not confused about the goings-on in the cabinet, since they have already started gossiping and rumours are going the rounds questioning the real intention of the government about the ACC.
So, what is the use of this secrecy, if it serves only to further intensify the confusion, which the government is said to be so fearful of? What is more, once enacted in parliament, won't those changes made in the ACC be in the full glare of the public? Does not such attitude go against the very spirit of the Right to Information Act, which the government enacted to bring transparency in the affairs of the administration and increase the public's access to such information? And was the Information Commission consulted in the matter, which is mandatory in this particular case?
Take another provision of the proposed amendments. That is about two to three years' prison term for anyone found guilty of filing a false allegation or case of corruption against anybody.
There is no question that bringing any kind of false charge against a person should be a culpable offence. Does it not then apply to any case under the sun? For no allegation or charge is true until it is proved so in the court of law. And the very purpose of investigation is to judge the merit of a charge before finally sending it to the court for trial.
To all appearances, the purpose of this provision will serve as a disincentive to the potential quarters willing to help the ACC in pinpointing corruption or even put a damper on the ACC officials' spirit to go all out against corruption.
The most alarming of the attempts at emasculating the ACC is the reported cabinet decision to appoint the corruption watchdog body's secretary by the government. What will then be left of the so-called independent ACC which was formed in 2004 from the ashes of the erstwhile soulless Bureau of Anti-Corruption in order that the government servants could be brought under closer scrutiny?
All these developments point again to the government's very intention about the ACC. What is then the use of this lame duck ACC, if it remains at the beck and call of the government?
If combating corruption is the objective of creating the ACC, then why are these repeated attempts at weakening it by such amendments?
The questions are too many to have a satisfactory answer. But what is clear from this latest attempt by incumbent government is that it does not want this anti-corruption watchdog to function the way it should do.
Though the report on the proposed amendments underway amid strict secrecy in the cabinet under the prime minister's supervision will raise many eyebrows, those well-versed in the functioning of our governments would hardly be surprised. For the political bosses of the government officials were never above board. They are often so apt at making the bureaucracy a scapegoat for all the corruption in the government. But can they truly deny that there is a nexus between the bureaucrats and their political bosses? For the proverbial tango needs two to play.
How easily the public representatives have become oblivious of the pledge they had made to the constituents to rid the administration of corruption during the election! If they had any feeling for their constituents, how could they use parliament to enhance their own perks, pays and a host of other benefits at the expense of public exchequer? And corruption? Well it is least said the better.
Despite the elections being held every five years to elect a new government, the basic character of the machinery to govern has remained unchanged over the decades. Had the elected representatives of the people been above board, then there would still be some hope for a change for the better in the affairs of governance. But the current crop of public representatives, excepting very few, has not been able to evince the kind of integrity and aptitude that is needed to break in the age-old horse of bureaucracy.
The way the government is learnt to be proceeding to bowdlerise the ACC's power to sue the any government servant including members of parliament, representatives of local government ministers, one wonders what purpose the anti-corruption watchdog will ultimately serve other than just watching with philosophical disinterest as the rot engulfs the entire system?
The writer is Editor, Science & Life, The Daily Star.