On the very first day of this year, the Anti-Corruption Commission declared that it will hunt down those who had amassed wealth illegally through casino businesses.
"We will keep on chasing the corrupt people. Big or small -- no one will be spared," said ACC Chairman Iqbal Mahmood at a programme on January 1 while talking about the anti-graft watchdog's stance against the illegal business.
After the Rapid Action Battalion busted casino dens in the city last year, some prompt action by the ACC, like freezing accounts and issuing foreign travel ban against some lawmakers, created hope among many.
But the investigation lost pace gradually.
Soon after the Covid-19 hit the country in early March, scams in relief distribution, health safety equipment procurement and irregularities in healthcare facilities popped up, and the ACC shifted its focus.
"Whenever a new issue arises, we are directed to dive in to deal with the matter. At the end of the day, we cannot make much progress in the cases. As a result, enquiries and investigation get piled up on our desks," said a deputy director of the ACC, preferring to be unnamed.
"People's expectation of ACC is never met," added the official.
With such frustrations, the country will be observing International Anti-Corruption Day today. This year's theme is "Recover with Integrity", with focuses on Covid-19 recovery through corruption mitigation.
It emphasises that inclusive Covid-19 recovery can only be achieved with integrity, according to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) press release to mark the occasion.
PENDING CASINO DRIVE ENQUIRIES
When the anti-casino drive was launched, names of several big shots, including some ruling party lawmakers, surfaced. The ACC took prompt measures to initiate enquiry, seized their bank accounts and issued embargo on their travel abroad.
Lawmakers Nurunnabi Chowdhury Shaon and Shamsul Haque Chowdhury were among them.
Later on, the names of other lawmakers, including Afzal Hossain, Mahfuzur Rahman Mita, Pankaj Nath, Moazzem Hossain Ratan, Omar Faruk Chowdhury, Mahi B Chowdhury, Nazrul Islam Babu, Abdullah Al Islam Jacob, Kazi Shahidul Islam alias Kazi Papul and Selina Islam, also came up for their alleged involvement in corruption.
Of them, the ACC filed a case against Kazi Papul and Selina for laundering around Tk 148.41 crore.
The ACC also investigated corruption allegations against former lawmakers BM Mozammel Haque, Kamrul Ashraf Khan Poton, Abdul Awal, Sirajul Islam Molla and Shamsul Haque Bhuiyan.
After enquiry, it filed two separate cases against Shamsul and Awal.
Enquiries into corruption allegations against former BNP lawmakers Ruhul Quddus Talukdar Dulu, Asadul Habib Dulu, Abdul Momin Talukdar and former secretary general of Jatiya Party ABM Ruhul Amin Hawladar are still pending.
Without elaborating, an ACC director said they were working on the matters and "examining the documents."
Besides, the ACC filed 22 cases after the crackdown was launched on casinos and against ruling party men, among others, over illegal wealth.
So far, charge sheets in four cases have been submitted against former general secretary of Dhaka South Jubo League Ismail Hossain Samrat, organising secretary Khaled Mahmud Bhuiyan, Samrat's associate Jakir Hossain and online casino kingpin Selim Prodhan.
The investigation into irregularities in health sector also did not see much progress.
Since the Covid-19 hit the country, the government took initiatives to procure masks, PPEs and other equipment to fight the pandemic.
Cashing in on the crisis, a quarter attempted to make quick money by supplying low standard masks. But some doctors protested it and brought the matter to light.
On June 18, the ACC formed a four-member committee, headed by a director, to investigate irregularities in purchase and distribution of PPEs, masks and other equipment.
The health division took a move to keep doctors, nurses and health workers, involved in treating Covid-19 patients, at hotels and made allocations in this regard. Allegations were raised that some top government officials misappropriated the fund.
The ACC quizzed some officials in this regard but there is not much progress, except for filing of some cases.
One case was filed against Abdur Razzaq, the chairman of JMI Hospital Requisite MFG Ltd, and six doctors over supply of fake N-95 masks.
The ACC also filed two cases against Regent Hospital boss Mohammad Shahed for corruption.
However, the anti-graft watchdog got something to cheer about.
According to a recently published Transparency International report, 86 percent respondents said the anti-corruption agency of Bangladesh is doing a good job in tackling corruption.
The survey titled "Global Corruption Barometer -- Asia 2020" was conducted on 1,000 people.
'SOME PROGRESS SOON'
ACC Chairman Iqbal Mahmood said the pandemic slowed their investigation.
Replying to a question about the delays in investigation, he said they needed to quiz doctors to enquire into the anomalies in the health sector.
"Since doctors are fighting the pandemic on the frontline, quizzing them at this moment might hamper healthcare services. That is why we're dealing the matter carefully."
Regarding the casino scams, he said enquiries and investigations were ongoing.
"Soon you'll see some progress," he told this newspaper on Sunday, adding their work was getting pace.
Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman compared the ACC with a toothless tiger.
"The primary factor is a dividing line it [ACC] has drawn for itself beyond which it is unwilling, incapable or fearful of going based on the identity and status of the individuals concerned," he said.
The other factor is that like most other instances of collusive corruption, casino business did not flourish in Dhaka without the participation, collusion and protection of powerful entities other than the frontliners.
"The local political elites knew it, the administration knew it, so did the law enforcement agencies," he said, adding, "The ACC may therefore be facing the risk of burning fingers if they went too deep into the scandals."
Iftekharuzzaman said some small fries may face a degree of inconvenience while the big fish are likely to enjoy the proverbial impunity.