The five-year tenure of the Anti-Corruption Commission is about to end and a new one is to take charge this month but the fate of the probes into 56 cases filed in connection with the BASIC Bank loan scam remains uncertain.
Whenever asked about progress in the last five years, the ACC sounded like a scratched record. It always said it had failed to find the Tk 4,500 crore siphoned off from the bank between 2009 and 2013.
Dissatisfied with the ACC's delays, the High Court in 2018 even raised the question of whether the investigation officers was in "connivance with the accused".
Following an HC order, the ACC quizzed former BASIC Bank Chairman Sheikh Abdul Hye Bacchu at least five times between 2018 and early 2019, and questioned all directors of the then bank's board. But there was not much headway in its investigation.
In contrast, when a loan scam of over Tk 10,000 crore in the country's four non-banking financial institutions (NBFI) came to the fore in 2019, the ACC took little time to uncover the channels through which money was routed before reaching the destination.
When asked why charge sheets have not yet been submitted, outgoing ACC Chairman Iqbal Mahmood, in office since March 2016, in an exclusive interview said he had restructured the pattern of investigation and enquiry after assuming office.
"This is a question [the delay in submitting the charge sheets] I get asked often, and rightly so, based on the gravity of the crime.
"One has to take into account that these cases were lodged with the ACC before its restructuring," he said.
Iqbal reiterated that the ACC has already instructed the investigation officers to trace the destinations of the siphoned money relating to the BASIC Bank loan scam.
"These cases and their investigations are still ongoing. As the chairman, I am unable to comment on cases under investigation," he added.
Last month, the ACC chairman hinted lightly at the fate of the 56 cases the commission had filed in connection with the scam in 2015.
On February 8, at the launch of the ACC's 2019 Annual Report during a views-exchange meeting, Iqbal said around Tk 3,500 crore out of Tk 4,500 crore had been returned to BASIC Bank.
"Let's wait and see whether the final report is given instead of charge sheets," he said.
Ironically, neither former BASIC Bank Chairman Sheikh Abdul Hye Bacchu nor any of the bank board members were named as the accused in these cases.
The perpetrators will undoubtedly be brought to justice in due time, the ACC chairman said, adding that in order to carry out this justice effectively, the ACC has to complete a transparent, detailed, and credible investigation.
The mistaken implication of jute mill worker Jaha Alam in corruption cases in 2019 has been another stain on Iqbal's five-year career.
This commission came under fire for the investigation officers' mistake in 2019 when Alam, wrongly imprisoned for more than three years in place of the actual accused Abu Salek, was released following media reports and the HC's intervention.
SOME GOOD PRACTICES
However, some bold steps were taken by this commission under Iqbal's leadership, that offered some solace to justice seekers.
For instance, the introduction of the anti-corruption hotline, 106, was a milestone. Soon after the beginning of the service, the ACC's call center was flooded with allegations, on the basis of which the ACC nabbed several government officials on bribery charges.
Another commendable task carried out by the commission under Iqbal's leadership was bringing several dark spots of corruption at different government organisations to light -- though its recommendations went mostly unheeded, as the chairman himself recently admitted at the views-exchange meeting last month.
Asked, the outgoing chairman said there are no better alternatives to systemic reforms for reducing corruption and harassment prevalent in the delivery of public services.
Had the government followed the ACC's recommendations, the systemic anomalies, corruption and procrastination prevalent in the government's service-providing agencies could have been mitigated exponentially, Iqbal observed.
He also suggested that the cabinet division takes up the responsibility of implementing and enforcing the anti-graft watchdog's recommendations to ensure corruption- and hassle-free services for the public.