SNAPSHOT of reality
He is a good friend of mine, not just a companion from my university days. He is an honest man and he never indulged in corruption as far as my knowledge goes. He has been in the civil administration for quite a few years now.
The last time we met, our discussions somehow centred around corruption in the administration. As a journalist (also as a friend), I was curious to know how does it feel to work in a corrupt system without being corrupt. He gave me an interesting insight.
He said, “Well, you journalists keep talking about corruption within the administration. But you never shed light on corruption outside the system.”
He explained, “When I visit my village, people want me to donate money for various purposes like construction or renovation of mosques, development of school buildings and cultural programmes. As I don't have any other source of income, I cannot contribute much and sometimes become a laughingstock. People, including my relatives, get very annoyed. They say, 'Come on! You are in the administration. You can make a lot of money.' Learning that I despise bribes, some even say, 'What are you? A fool?'”
Both of us laughed at this point.
“It's like they want me to make money. They want me to take bribes. My honesty fails to earn their respect.”
As he was getting slightly emotional, I tried to comfort him, saying, “But some people respect you, right?”
“Respect!” He now laughed out loud. “Nobody respects honest men anymore. In our society, honest men are nothing but a bunch of losers. This is what our society has become. This is what I meant by corruption outside the system.”
“Do you know what happens to honest officers?” he asked me but went on without waiting for my reply, “First of all, we are not only fools. We have to be coward as well. We don't take bribes; that's okay. But if we stand against corruption, we will be punished -- OSD, transfer, no promotion and so on.”
“Honesty costs us dearly. This is the reality of the society,” he said and sighed.
Months after this conversation, I again heard of “reality of the society” as I learnt about a man who had to pay for his honesty.
He was an assistant commissioner (jetty examination). He assumed the responsibility on January 15 and the next day, C&F agents went on the rampage at his office, accusing him of “misbehaviour”.
They confined him to his office for over three hours, broke his nameplate and hurled stones after he refused to take “speed money”, said witnesses.
He could not continue his work that day, according to a report of this newspaper.
With probe still pending into the vandalism and the official's alleged misbehaviour, the National Board of Revenue (NBR) transferred him to a training academy. His transfer order was issued on Monday and he is supposed to join his new workplace tomorrow.
What went wrong on January 16?
Talking to a reporter of The Daily Star, a top leader of Chittagong Customs C&F Staff Association said the official is one of the very few who don't take bribes.
“But,” he said, “Speed money is exchanged here [customs house] at different levels starting from value assessment of products to delivery of consignments.”
The union leader made a very interesting comment in another media report. Talking to a news portal, he said the officer had to face this situation because of the “reality of our society”.
“He is a good man. As far as I know, he never takes bribes. But the reality of our society is different.”
Ah! The reality of our society!
What kind of reality is that? Do we want a society where honesty proves costly for an officer?
We better think about the question seriously.
The assistant commissioner has been “punished”. But if we think that it has nothing to do with us, we should go through Inspector Goole's final speech in the famous play “An Inspector Calls”.
“We don't live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.”
We better learn that lesson quickly.