Govt making all but people happy
It is the practice that an outgoing government will refrain from making any controversial decision or legal provision to avert public wrath ahead of a general election. But the Awami League-led government proved this wrong on Sunday when it made a controversial legal provision to protect civil bureaucrats from graft charges.
Close to the end of its tenure, it enacted the provision that requires the Anti-Corruption Commission from now on to take the government's permission before filing graft cases against public officials.
The story goes on. To pass a bill amending the ACC Act, 2004 to this effect, the government on Sunday used parliament like a rubber stamp. Parliament was made to stand against public sentiment regarding introduction of the controversial provision to please the bureaucracy.
The government, it seems, was desperate to offer the bureaucrats legal protection from graft charges. This is why it did not care about the huge public outcry triggered since the government disclosed the provision in a bill placed in parliament in February 2011.
Different non-government organisations and individuals working for good governance, and various donor agencies and countries expressed concern over the government move to make such a provision curtailing the authority of the anti-graft body.
Finance Minister AMA Muhith himself had opposed the provision. He 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 ACC itself strongly opposed the provision terming this unconstitutional. In a letter to the parliamentary standing committee in May 2011, the ACC said the proposed change ran counter to Article 27 of the constitution on equality before law.
Article 27 of the constitution, which deals with one of the fundamental rights of citizens, reads: "All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law."
Legal experts also termed the provision unconstitutional as it was aimed at offering special protection to a special community --- government officials.
The constitution prohibits the state from making any law inconsistent with the fundamental rights guaranteed by the country's supreme charter.
Amid the huge uproar, the parliamentary body decided to visit some countries to gather experiences on best practices on the anti-graft body. A seven member parliamentary delegation visited Australia, Indonesia and South Korea from September 9 to 24, 2011.
In its report placed before the parliamentary standing committee, the delegation said the anti-graft bodies in those countries function independently without interventions from other organisations of the state.
From that perspective, it continued, no provision should be in place in amending the ACC act, which if passed, shall cause impairment of the anti-graft's functional independence.
"As a result the section containing the provision for prior approval to inquire, investigate or prosecute public servant with the charge of corruption should not get passed through the parliament," said the report, which was also placed in parliament recently along with the report on the overall activities of the committee.
In light of the delegation's observation, the parliamentary standing committee took a strong stance against the controversial proposal. And in September this year it recommended that the House reject the controversial provision proposed by the government.
But nothing could prevent the government from introducing the provision. During the passage of the bill on Sunday, a ruling AL MP, on the advice of the government high command, proposed the inclusion of the controversial provision. And a House dominated by ruling AL MPs acted on the government's wish and voted in favour of the controversial provision.
By doing it, the government finally did exactly the opposite of what the Awami League had promised around five years ago before the ninth parliamentary polls regarding a strengthening of the fight against corruption.
In its electoral manifesto 'A Charter for Change', the AL promised to take multi-pronged measures to fight corruption.
Effective Action against Corruption: Multi-pronged measures to fight corruption will be put into place. At the end of its tenure, it finally clipped the wings of the ACC, let alone making it stronger.
The reason behind the government's desperation is clear. Before the 2008 parliamentary polls, the AL relied on the people and came up with pledges to fight corruption. That situation has changed. The government has been trying to bank on other forces, including civil bureaucrats, to win the next battle of ballots.
In the last five years, the government has taken many steps, including the much talked about one of mass promotions in the civil administration to please the civil bureaucrats. And curtailing the ACC's power to file graft cases against officials of the civil administration is not any isolated step.
All these have exposed the AL's desperation to get re-elected anyhow.