Ignoring all criticism, and recommendations of a parliamentary committee, the House yesterday passed a bill introducing a controversial provision that requires the ACC to take the government's permission before filing graft cases against public officials.
More than two and half a years ago, the government placed the bill in parliament, proposing some changes in the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) Act, incorporating a proposal for introducing the controversial provision. Back then, the bill took a lot of flak and the government apparently backtracked on it.
Now at the fag end of its tenure and ahead of the next parliamentary election, the government introduces the provision that curbs the ACC's authority to file cases against government officials.
Sultana Kamal, chairperson of Transparency International Bangladesh Trustee Board, termed the provision "unconstitutional" and “unfair” as it offers protection to a special group.
"Government officials should be made more accountable as they deal with public money," she told The Daily Star yesterday.
In defence of this provision, Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury, who piloted the bill in parliament, claimed every country had laws with such provisions.
"If the bosses give orders, then what will a government employee do?" she asked while talking to The Daily Star yesterday.
Matia, who is also in charge of the cabinet division in parliament, said the government is the custodian of its employees, so its permission is required to lodge cases against its officials.
When the proposal was first placed in parliament in February 2011, the ACC as well as different non-government organisations and individuals working for good governance, and various donor agencies and countries expressed concern.
In response, Finance Minister AMA Muhith wrote to the parliamentary standing committee on the law, justice and parliamentary affairs ministry and requested that the anti-graft body's power to sue government officials not be curtailed.
The parliamentary body itself was against curtailing the ACC's power and had recommended in September this year that the House reject the controversial provision.
Interestingly, members of the parliamentary body visited Australia, Indonesia and South Korea to gather experience on how anti-graft bodies in those countries work.
But all efforts went in vain yesterday. During the passage of the bill, ruling Awami League lawmaker RAM Obaidul Muktadir Chowdhury proposed the inclusion of the controversial provision.
The agriculture minister, who proposed the passage of the bill, accepted the amendment proposal, and the House passed the bill by voice vote.
The bill was scheduled for passage on October 28 this year, but the House did not pass the bill that day.
On May 19, 2011, Suranjit Sengupta, the then chief of the parliamentary body, said, "If any government official is personally involved in corruption or assists in committing corruption, the state cannot take his responsibility.
"And in that case, no prior permission should be required for filing a case against the government official for the specific crime."
Suranjit, who was later made minister without portfolio, said members of the committee questioned as to how this proposed provision would serve the nation.
The changes brought to the ACC law yesterday increased the tenure of the anti-graft body's chief and commissioners to five years from four years.
They also made graft offences non-bailable and introduced a provision for punishment up to five years' imprisonment for supplying false information to influence investigation and trial.
They also empowered the police to investigate graft allegations against ACC officials and employees.
Currently, the ACC law allows the anti-graft body to do the job.
Yesterday's amendment to the ACC Act introduced the provision for prior government permission to file cases against public servants and begin trial of the cases under section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898.
As per the provision, no court shall take cognisance of an offence without prior government sanction to hold trial of a judge, or a magistrate or any public servant.
Prosecutors will have to submit proof of government permission to the court before it begins trial of a judge or a magistrate or any public servant.
Section 197 allows the government to determine the nature of the offences under which public servants can be prosecuted. It can also determine which court would try them.