12:00 AM, October 07, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 07, 2012

A whistleblower

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Ripan Kumar Biswas

Though there are a lot of good people in Bangladesh, who are ready to tell the public or someone in authority about alleged dishonest or illegal activities occurring in a government department or private company or organisation, the whistle blowing comment "I am unable to bear the burden any longer," made by driver Azam Khan, carried a very clear message.
What are the right things to do when there is violation of a law, rule, regulation, and/or a direct threat to public interest, such as fraud, health/safety violations, and corruption? The answer is not too hard to find. We have more than a moral imperative to step forward and expose those malfeasances.
Whistleblowers like Azam Khan are ordinary people who find themselves as observers of situations that force them into a decision of having to speak out. But the road to victory or justice is generally rocky and not without consequences for the whistleblower. He/she can suffer ostracism, loss of income and job, and depression. And the severest consequence would be the loss of life, either his/her or one of his/her family.
Azam Khan's whistle blowing story began on the night of April 9, 2012, when he drove APS Faruq's microbus into Pilkhana, the headquarters of Border Guard Bangladesh, and blew the whistle that there was illegal money in the vehicle. According to various news media at that time and also his appearance in a private TV channel in Bangladesh on October 4, Azam Kham fearlessly said that the Tk. 74 lakh stashed in their car was being taken to the then railway minister Suranjit Sengupta's house. The money had been collected as bribe from people seeking jobs in the railway.
That amount was a small part of the whole recruitment business. Apart form APS Faruq, the syndicate included railway's the then general manager (east) Yusuf Ali Mridha and Dhaka division security commandant Enamul Huq. They conducted the whole recruitment process to collect Tk. 10 crore. Azam further said that an army officer was involved in the recruitment business who wanted to appoint several hundred job seekers in a Tk. 3 crore recruitment deal.
Bangladesh had been tagged as "the most corrupt country" for several years. The policymakers, particularly those among the politicians, have so far responded very little to bring about positive changes in this situation, as some of them are widely perceived to be involved in the process thereof. Corruption is endemic in Bangladesh, and greed seems to be limitless.
We are not saying that only Bangladesh suffers from corruption. Bradley Birkenfeld approached the US Department of Justice in 2007, offering to reveal the inner workings of the giant Union Bank of Switzerland's (UBS) international private-banking division, where he had worked for five years. Some of the details that emerged raised eyebrows, like the revelation that bankers had used toothpaste tubes to smuggle diamonds across borders for clients. Having long turned a blind eye to these sorts of shenanigans, the American government came down heavily on UBS. In 2009, the bank avoided criminal prosecution by agreeing to pay a $780 million fine to the Internal Service Revenue (IRS) of the US
Rod Blagojevich, former governor of Illinois in the US, is now behind bars, serving a 14-year sentence on corruption charges. He was convicted on 18 counts, including charges that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's old US Senate seat.
It is part of the moral complexity that whistles blowers presuppose that somewhere there is someone with appropriate authority who will appreciate the moral importance of the disclosure and will respond accordingly. Azam Khan appealed to the head of the government, and expects that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who he believes is against corruption, will not let corrupt people go unpunished.
In her recent speech at the UN General Assembly in New York, Sheikh Hasina renewed her demand for reforming the United Nations, the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international financial institutions (IFIs). It is good to raise questions about their 60-year-old power equations functionalities. But the reform should start from home. Gross ethical violation has been prevailing in Bangladesh during different regimes. Unscrupulous and corrupt people in every sphere of the society are violating rules and regulations frequently.
After signing and ratifying the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) on February 27, 2008, Bangladesh entered into a legal obligation to put in place a framework to deal with a wide array of corrupt practices, develop national institutions to prevent corrupt practices, prosecute offenders, cooperate with other governments to recover stolen assets, and help each other through technical and financial assistance to fight corruption, reduce its occurrence, and reinforce integrity.
Supporters of Awami Legue may consider Azam Khan as a rising threat to them, but whistleblowers like him are considered as "saviours" who ultimately help to bring about important changes in the system.
The IRS agreed to pay Bradley Birkenfeld $104 million for his role in exposing the giant Swiss bank's actions -- illegal in America but not in its home country -- in helping American taxpayers hide money in offshore accounts. Azam Khan may not end up with a heavy reward like Birkenfeld, or a smooth exit deal from his opponents, but his bravery will encourage people to stand up against corruption.

The writer is a freelance writer based in New York.
E-mail: Ripan.Biswas@yahoo.com

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