The finance minister would have us believe that corruption has so pervaded the entire society that it has rendered all of us more or less corrupt. Our finance minister is known for his broadsides and interesting utterances at various times during his long tenure in the job, which sometimes have been a cause of embarrassment for him and his party. This may be one such comment.
In the past, apart from dismissing with a single sweep of his hand as peanuts the bad loans of some public banks amounting to more than Tk 4,000 crore, he had also redefined the word 'rich' to justify the imposition of tax on holders of accounts with Tk 1 lakh and had made a very innovative list that included donkeys and horses as items exempted from VAT. All this had evinced various reactions from many quarters. And now he has termed the entire society corrupt while inaugurating an ACC hotline number to receive complaints on corruption, as 'our veins' have been infiltrated by corruption. If that be the case, what is the use of a toll-free number? Would a purification programme not be a better option?
But to the more mundane issue of corruption. Most people would reject the finance minister's characterisation of the society as being corrupt, and not without reason. Not all people are corrupt and in fact one can say with conviction that only a few are, and they reside in the higher rungs of the society, among the rich and powerful. And it is they who command the order of things in the society. And this is very well-known to the finance minister who has acknowledged the reality and said so in as many words on that particular occasion.
If corruption is rampant, it is because people are forced to grease palms as speed money for every little service they are entitled to but do not get without it. But what is that compared to the CNG scam, the share market scam, the Basic Bank or the Hall Mark scam. 'Societal corruption' had nothing to do with those. It was greed that was the motive. For all that we can say, not much of that cash has been utilised in the country but siphoned off to buy 'second homes' in Malaysia or 'posh houses' in 'begumpara' in Canada, or may have been stashed away in some banks in Switzerland.
However, that is not to say that other segments of the society, the many among the less affluent, do not indulge in corruption. That is what compels us to look at the phenomenon of corruption itself. We should appreciate the gross difference between greed-based corruption and need-based corruption and the adverse impact of corruption as a consequence of the powerful and the mighty indulging in it. What the comments of the minister convey to the ordinary person, apart from a sense of deep resentment for making so light of a most vital issue, is an effort to justify corruption.
The anatomy of corruption cannot be a mystery. It is upsetting to see that, having topped the list of the most corrupt for several years, we are still formulating strategies to fight its endemic influence. And one finds it difficult to agree with those who argue that it might not be possible to eliminate the scourge entirely, and in the short term we may have to keep it at an endurable level till there is a pathological transformation in us.
Let us not hide behind the façade of intractability. And the Anti-Corruption Commission must be complimented for initiating steps to combat corruption. But it cannot be for the Commission alone to fight the bane. Let us also not be shy of exposing the fact that in our country, and perhaps in most countries beset with corruption, corruption is fuelled by a nexus of corrupt officers in the administration, a few politicians and the unscrupulous businessmen. Were it not so then we would have not seen the parliamentary inquiry into the infamous CNG scam scuttled by a powerful minister, or there would have been a thorough enquiry into the share market scam and the guilty would have been brought to book. The Basic Bank chairman would not have been allowed to roam freely even after causing the most debilitating damage to public sector banking.
Neither being apologetic about corruption nor justifying its prevalence as a fait accompli behoves a government that wants to bring good governance. Doing that amounts to endorsing a most culpable pastime—of a few rich and powerful. Getting rid of corruption would involve looking at the mirror and some sort of introspection instead of blaming the entire society for it. Corruption has escalated primarily because of the culture of impunity and it being a low-risk-high-return venture. As a wise king had said thousands of years ago: "Because sentence against a bad work has not been executed speedily, that is why the heart of the sons of men has become fully set in them to do bad." That still holds good today.
Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan ndc, psc (Retd) is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.