12:00 AM, December 05, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 05, 2012

News Analysis

Puzzling ACC

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Inam Ahmed

Ghulam Rahman

The Anti-Corruption Commission has finally found out that a few individuals may indeed have committed some crimes in dealing with the Padma bridge project. What the World Bank had been vocal about all along, leading to the cancellation of its $1.2 billion loan, the largest in any country in the multilateral agency's history, has now belatedly been vetted by the ACC.
But meantime, a lot of questions have been raised about the role of the ACC and its chief's past remarks and the government's reactions to the WB allegations. Many of the ACC chief's comments were contradictory and gave a different impression about the independence of the anti-graft body.
Let's look at some of the past comments of ACC Chairman Ghulam Rahman. On July 11, just 12 days after the World Bank had cancelled its loan, he said some companies might have "misguided" the World Bank which led to the cancellation of its loan for the bridge project.
All along the topsy-turvy journey of the project, one person, Economic Adviser to the Prime Minister Dr Moshiur Rahman, created a lot of hurdles to the donors' engagement in the project. First he refused to step aside, as a precondition set by the Bank for revival of its loan. Among many things, his refusal resulted in the loan cancellation. But finally he went on leave, paving the way for the global lender's return to the scheme.
Then again Moshiur cast another long shadow over the project when he suddenly returned from abroad and claimed he had joined his workplace after the leave. The donors were highly irritated and the project became uncertain again.
Just when the whole nation desperately wished that Moshiur would not torpedo the project by his sudden return to office, the ACC chief blurted out that even if Moshiur remained at work, it would not influence ACC's inquiry in any way.
If one looks back at the project history, one finds that two SNC Lavalin officials were charged with corruption by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and put on trial. However, the ACC (and also the government) seemed to be quite apathetic about this fact and tried to ignore it.
At one stage, Ghulam Rahman said the ACC was not sending any team to Canada to collect information related to the Padma bridge graft allegation.
However, the same ACC later changed position when it said it would not be able to file a first information report (FIR) over graft allegations in the project unless Canada provided it with relevant information.
Without an FIR, the ACC cannot upgrade its "inquiry" into "investigation" as expected by the WB.
And only a month ago, quite unnecessarily, the ACC chairman said they had not found until then any evidence of corruption in the bridge project based on which they could file an FIR.
But when journalists interacted with the Bank's expert panel that oversees the ACC's inquiry, we got a clear feeling that the panel thought the ACC had wasted time and sat on the graft allegation for about a year. The frustration was clear that the ACC did not find strong enough a case to upgrade the allegation from "inquiry" level to "investigation" level.
An official requesting anonymity also said the anti-graft body had repeatedly requested the Canadian authorities to allow an ACC team to visit that country. The ACC is yet to get any response.
But then we also see reports that the Canadian police have found proof that SNC Lavalin had offered at least six influential Bangladeshis, including former communications minister Syed Abul Hossain, huge bribes to obtain the consultant's job in the Padma bridge project. We also come to know the RCMP shared this information with the ACC.
The government's reaction to the graft allegation was bizarre. From the beginning the government, from the top to the bottom, defended that there could not be any graft because the work had not been awarded. The government and the ACC also aired the view that graft conspiracy could not be a crime in Bangladesh law.
However, the position has changed and it has been accepted that "corruption conspiracy" is also a crime.
And now the same ACC finds "efforts of a corruption conspiracy" in the same project.
The whole episode of the Padma bridge project has opened up scopes to rethink how efficient and independent our anti-graft body is.

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