The myth of the anti-corruption drive

Tasneem Khalil

Tasneem Khalil

Photo: September 27, Front Page, New Age.

[Mashuqur Rahman, USA.]

On Wednesday, Berlin-based Transparency International (TI) released its Corruption Perceptions Index for 2007. The Daily Star newspaper in Bangladesh announced the news with the headline “Bangladesh improves on its graft image: Climbs up to 7th position from bottom of TI’s corruption index.”

Indeed Bangladesh this year tied for the 7th lowest spot on the index and in 2006 Bangladesh tied for the third lowest spot. However, both in 2006 and in 2007 Bangladesh received a CPI (Corruption Perceptions Index) score of 2.0. In other words, Bangladesh showed no improvement in corruption between 2006 and 2007.

Bangladesh’s ranking improved only because seven countries of the world became more corrupt this year (Cambodia, Central African Republic, Papua New Guinea, Turkmenistan, Venezuela, Equatorial Guinea and Laos all reported worse scores this year than in 2006) and four new countries with worse corruption than Bangladesh were added to the list of countries surveyed (Afghanistan, Tonga, Uzbekistan and Somalia all were new entrants at the bottom of the list).

The new Transparency International report must come as alarming news to Bangladesh’s “corruption” fighting military government. An “anti-corruption” drive launched in January by Bangladesh’s military rulers apparently has had no effect. So, today the TI representative in Bangladesh scrambled to give reasons for the lack of improvement. First he found the silver lining in the report:

“This also proves that at least corruption is not increasing in Bangladesh,” said Muzaffer, referring to the country’s five-year stint in topping the index of corrupt countries.

He further explained:

Pressed on why the score remains the same despite the anti-corruption crackdown by the caretaker government, Muzaffer said Bangladesh could have fared worse if the positive results achieved between January and July this year did not offset the worsening corruption data of 2006.

Explaining why the score remains the same, TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said, “Included in this year’s index were data collected until the end of July 2007, which means CPI 2007 was relatively more influenced by the data from 2006.”

He added that since business surveys provide the data, ‘it is quite likely that a perceived sense of insecurity and uncertainty that is widely believed to have prevailed among the business community in wake of the post 1/11 anti-corruption drive in Bangladesh, might have prevented the possibility of a better score’.

TIB also said it is too early to say how Bangladesh’s score will be affected by the ongoing institutional reforms undertaken by the current government in separating the judiciary, and in reforming the Election Commission, Anti-corruption Commission, and the Public Service Commission.

Referring to the arrest of those associated with corruption in the past and the signing of the UN Convention against Corruption, TIB said the effectiveness of these measures will determine Bangladesh’s score in 2008 and beyond.

“It might well be that only in the years to come the positive impact of such reforms would be more clearly discernible,” Iftekhar added.

The TI representative argues that 2006’s corruption was so bad that the “anti-corruption” drive from 2007 has only so far overcome the negative data. He also blamed the perception of the business community in the wake of the “anti-corruption” drive for the low score. I am compelled to remind the TI representative in Bangladesh that the TI index tracks the perception of corruption, not corruption itself (hence the name Corruption Perceptions Index). Therefore the perception of the business community is not a mitigating factor to explain away the CPI score, it is the score.

The military government has used the “anti-corruption” drive as justification for its political purges. It has been repeatedly stated that corruption must be tackled before free and fair elections can be held. Chief Advisor Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed boasted to Time magazine earlier this year that because his government did not suffer from “political patronage” they were better corruption fighters:

A nonparty caretaker government doesn’t suffer from the burdens of political patronage. Whether or not the political parties could have done so, I do not know. But they certainly lacked the political will and the courage in the past.

The impression that has been created is that Bangladesh was becoming more and more corrupt under successive democratic governments, and therefore an intervention was in order. However, a look at how Bangladesh fared between 2001 and 2007 in Transparency International’s own numbers tells a startlingly different story [Click the graph below for an enlarged image]:

The graph includes data from 2001 when TI first started tracking the CPI score for Bangladesh. According to TI, the 2001 CPI score is an outliner and TI cautions that it is only based on a small number of surveys and should be viewed with caution (however, I have left the data in for completeness). You will notice that Bangladesh improved every year on the CPI score except in 2007. From 2001 to 2006 Bangladesh was under democratic rule, and contrary to the meme that has been nurtured by Bangladesh’s military government, Bangladesh improved steadily. If past trends had continued, 2007 should have shown an improved CPI score. However, the military government’s “anti-corruption” drive has instead stopped Bangladesh’s slow climb out of corruption.

The TI data for 2007, though surprising at first glance, is not wholly unexpected. In June of this year, I wrote a short article for Himal Southasian magazine about the fallacy of the military government’s “anti-corruption” drive. That issue of Himal magazine however was banned in Bangladesh. In the article I wrote:

While the reduction of corruption, rampant in Bangladesh, is a laudable and important goal, it is far from clear that an anti-corruption drive by an unaccountable government can indeed be successful. On the contrary, all the conditions exist today for the further corruption of the political system in Bangladesh. The World Bank often uses the following formula for parsing corruption: C = M + D

5 Responses to “The myth of the anti-corruption drive”

  1. Author Image

    Kaiser Kabir

    It is business as usual as far as greasing the bureaucracy is concerned. If anything, the rates seem to have risen far in excess of the cost of living.

  2. Author Image


    There are about ONE MILION suit / litigation pending in the Court of Bangladesh which are increasing everyday,

    Most of these are due to force full occupation of land of innocent land owner having law full title right and clean documents by the Local Miscreants ( Commonly known as Social Worker )

    Surprisingly Government Organization like Land Survey Department , Settlement Office and their Subordinate Office encouraged such type of force full occupation due to ABSENCE OF TORT LAW in Bangladesh and lack of accountability of the official .

    Our Law Ministry, Ministry of Land, Ministry of Local Government may kindly take action at earliest possible time to help and stop such process

    It will be highly appreciated if you kindly circulate the above in possible way for creating awareness among the local people and international community.


  3. Author Image

    The People

    In Bangladesh People’s expectation & aspiration are for democratic system with arrangement of accountability and fair law like TORT LAW to combat malpractices and repression of people.

    Several Lac Suits / Litigations are pending in District Court due to illegal occupation of land ignoring documents and title right by miscreants.
    The officials of Land Survey Department, Settlement Office and their Subordinate Office are also responsible for such activities as they prepare records & parcha of land in favor of land occupier ignoring deed & title right. depriving the actual land owner . .
    It shall continue as the officials of the above organization can not be made responsible for loss and damages of actual owner of land since the colonial period to till date
    Suffering land owner can only go for correction of records & parcha through Court.
    The process of court is a matter of life long litigation & an expensive system ,by this time the face of the lands changes .

    Government may take immediate action to abolish system of POSSESSION RIGHT without any valid document or title right.

    And shall also allow the application TORT LAW in Bangladesh without any delay to established accountability & prevent existing malpractices.

    TORT LAW also protect poor people becoming more poor due to repression

    It will be highly appreciated if you kindly circulate the above in all level for creating awareness among the people and international community as well as Patriot Political Worker. Leader or Intellectual Group, & Policy Maker of the Country .

    The Peoples

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