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    Zero tolerance—what next?


Transparency International (TI) released its Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2018 on January 29, 2019. Bangladesh has scored 26 out of 100, two points lower than the 28 in 2017. The slide is worse in terms of ranking. Bangladesh has been ranked in the 149th  position from the top among 180 countries, which is six steps lower than the 143rd in 2017.
Among the eight South Asian countries Bangladesh continues to be the second worst after Afghanistan. In the Asia-Pacific region, we are the fourth lowest among 31 countries, better than only Cambodia, Afghanistan and North Korea. 
Bhutan has performed best in South Asia, scoring 68 and ranking 25th from top in the global list, followed by India ranked 78th scoring 41, Sri Lanka 89th scoring 38, Pakistan 117th with 33, Maldives and Nepal jointly 124th with 31, and Afghanistan 172nd  with 16. Scores of all South Asian countries other than Bhutan are below the global average of 43, meaning that corruption remains a key regional challenge. Globally, Somalia, with 10 points, holds the lowest position for the 12th successive time.
The CPI is produced by the TI Secretariat in Berlin, based on a methodology designed by experts from Department of Statistics and Political Science of Columbia University; Methodology Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science; Charles University, Prague; and Hertie School of Governance, German Institute for Economic Research.
Produced since 1995, CPI relies on thirteen international surveys that provide comparison of countries by perceived prevalence of corruption. Information used in the CPI relates to corruption in the public sector, particularly bribery, diversion of public funds, use of public office for private gain, nepotism, excessive bureaucratic burden and state capture. The government's capacity to control corruption is also considered.
Data for Bangladesh came from the Economist Intelligence Unit Country Risk Assessment, World Economic Forum Executive Opinion Survey, Bertelsmann Foundation Transformation Index, Global Insight Country Risk Ratings, Political Risk Services International Country Risk Guide, World Bank Country Policy and Institutional Assessment, World Justice Project Rule of Law Index, and Varieties of Democracy project. The data period was November 2016 to September 2018. No nationally conducted research or surveys like those by TIB are used in CPI.
The best performer is Denmark, having scored 88, followed by New Zealand with 87. In the third place, scoring 85, are jointly Finland, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland. Norway is in number 7 with a score of 84 followed by the Netherlands with 82, Canada and Luxembourg with 81, and Germany and the UK with 80. Singapore, Hong Kong (76) and Japan (73) are the only Asian countries in the top twenty.
No country has scored 100 percent, hence no country is free from corruption. As many as 124 (69 percent) countries have scored below 50; 107 countries (59 percent) have scored less than the global average. Score has declined in 73 (41 percent) countries including high-performers like New Zealand, Norway, Canada, Germany, the UK, and Hong Kong.
Bangladesh was in the lowest position during 2001-2005. It has since escaped the threshold of the lowest scores and rankings though there is no scope of complacence. Given the prime minister's pledge of zero tolerance against corruption during the launch of her party's election manifesto, which she has since been regularly insisting upon, expectations have risen that openings to perform better may be in offing.
Accountability is the key to zero tolerance against corruption—this is easier pledged than practised, especially in a context where conventional processes and institutions of checks and balances are absent. The overall political and governance space now rests on one party.
Accountable governance will therefore depend on an unlikely paradigm shift in political culture whereby being in or near power will be no longer treated as a mandate for self-enrichment. Is it possible that the corrupt, especially the powerful, will no longer enjoy impunity? Can corruption be indeed treated as a punishable offence for all irrespective of identity and status—political or otherwise?
Can the Anti-Corruption Commission take the PM's declaration as a mandate to overcome its inhibitions against acting independently and bring the corrupt to justice without fear or favour? Will it help their confidence that when it comes to corruption control they are no subordinates to the government; rather they are authorised to hold government functionaries to account?
Can it be expected that grabbers of land, forest, river and water bodies, loan-defaulters and other swindlers in the banking sector will no longer enjoy political patronage, high positions and impunity? Will bribery continue to be treated as "speed money" and encouraged "within certain limits" as it was by former ministers? Will unauthorised payments for public services cease to be a way of life? Can illicit financial outflow be arrested and those involved brought to justice? Can it be expected that the unconstitutional provision of legalising black money will be discontinued right from the forthcoming budget?
In her speech to the nation on January 25, the prime minister stressed the importance of people's involvement and media's supportive role in fighting corruption. This reflects Article 13 of the UN Convention against Corruption, which obliges the government to create a conducive environment for participation of civil society, NGOs, media and citizens at large in anti-corruption movement. If the PM's statement is to yield practical value, restrictions on the space for media and civil society, especially freedom of speech and opinion, indispensable for disclosure, reporting and voice raising, must be removed. Drastic and comprehensive amendment of the Digital Security Act is therefore indispensable.
Above all, what is needed for zero tolerance to yield concrete result is a comprehensive, target-oriented National Anti-Corruption Strategy developed by engaging relevant experts and stakeholders, and for it to be strictly enforced and independently monitored in the short-, medium- and long-term.
Dr Iftekharuzzaman is Executive Director, Transparency International Bangladesh.
   The Daily Star,
   January 30, 2019