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Corruption -- Good news in a depressing context

Corruption -- Good news in a depressing context


An aggressive procession of high profile corruption cases for about a year or so, like Padma bridge project, Hall-Mark, Destiny, railway, share market, etc., has put the government into deep embarrassment, ACC in an unenviable labyrinth, and the people in disenchantment. To deepen frustrations, Bangladesh was ranked 24 steps lower than last year in international comparison according to the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).

Against this backdrop, the report on National Household Survey (NHS) 2012 released yesterday, (December 28), by Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) has shown a few positive results. 63.7% of the surveyed households have been victims of corruption one way or the other in the sectors covered by the survey. In terms of indicators comparable with the previous survey of the same series the rate of victimisation of corruption this year is 55.8%, whereas in 2010 it was 84%.

The survey shows, however, that the most important service delivery sectors affecting people's lives such as law enforcement, land administration, justice, health, education and local government, remain gravely affected by corruption. Moreover, in terms of implications measured by the amount of bribe the situation has worsened. In 2010 cost of bribery in the surveyed sectors was estimated at 1.4% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or 8.7% of annual national budget, whereas this year it has been estimated to be 2.4% of GDP and 13.4% of annual budget. The survey also shows once again that while corruption affects everyone, the poorer sections of the society suffer from it more.

Notably, the NHS has nothing to do with CPI released annually by the Berlin-based Secretariat of Transparency International. No data or analysis from this survey or any other research conducted by TIB is used in CPI, the 2012 version of which was released on December 5. The CPI provides score and rank of countries based on perception of prevalence of political and administrative corruption at the national level. NHS is not about perception or opinion. It is a survey of the experience of respondents while receiving services in selected public, private and NGO sectors. While CPI is based essentially on perception of high level corruption, NHS is about petty corruption at the service delivery end.

This year's NHS has been conducted on a sample size of 7,554 households selected randomly from all 64 districts of the country following the Integrated Multi-Purpose Sampling (IMPS) design of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. To ensure highest standard of methodological soundness and credibility of analysis TIB was guided by a panel of 6 reputed experts. At 95% confidence level the maximum possible margin of error of the results is estimated as +/-4.0, which reflects highest level of reliability.

The survey shows that among the surveyed sectors labour migration was the worst affected, with 77% of respondents as victims of corruption, followed by law enforcement (75.8%), land administration (59%), justice (57.1%), health (40.2%), education (40.1%) and local government (30.9%). In terms of geographic distribution, incidence of corruption has been found to be relatively higher in rural areas than urban, which reflects deep and wide spread of corruption. Notably enough, in the labour migration sector where service recipients have been worst affected, most of the respondents have been victims in the hands of friends, relations or neighbours. This also indicates that the level of trust and access of potential migrants to the relevant public channels and processes are low, for which they resort to private sources. Moreover, women have been relatively more victimised. Parallel with institutional spread of corruption these are signs of erosion of societal values.

On the other hand, the survey shows that the higher the income and expenditure the higher the incidence of corruption. This may be because people belonging to higher expenditure category received services in more sectors the lower expenditure bracket (7 per household compared with 4). Moreover, people who earn and spend more, when faced with corruption, may also have a higher propensity to obtain services with relative ease by illicit transactions.

According to the survey data, the total national loss due to petty bribery has been estimated as Tk. 21,955 crores, which as earlier indicated, is as high as 13.4% of national budget or 2.4% of GDP. The loss is also estimated to be 4.8% of average annual household expenditure. More importantly, for households with lowest range of expenditures the rate of loss is much higher at 5.5% compared to those belonging to high spending bracket for whom it is 1.3%. In other words, the burden of corruption is more on the poorer sections of the society.
Compared to 2010, the incidence of corruption has come down in most of the surveyed sectors except health and a few grouped as "others," such as BRTA, Wasa, passport, appointment in public sector, BTCL and postal department. On the other hand, sectors that have recorded reduction in incidence of corruption are law enforcement, land administration, justice, local government, agriculture, electricity, income tax and customs, education, banking, insurance and NGOs.

Factors that may have contributed to the reported improvement include possible positive impact, limited though, of awareness of and campaign on the Right to Information Act; introduction of citizens charter; information technology in some sectors and e-information service to Union Parishad level; anti-corruption training of public sector employees; positive role of some local government representatives; and growing awareness, public participation and engagement thanks to increasingly active role played by media and civil society.

However, while it is premature to determine the extent to which such initiatives have causal relationship with the positive result, it also remains to be seen if this marks a sustainable trend. Indeed, there is no scope of complaisance. Notably enough, as already mentioned, access to critically important sectors such as law enforcement, land administration, justice, health, education and local government remain highly vulnerable to corruption. Law enforcement has particularly shown insignificant improvement, as nearly 76% of respondents were victims of corruption in this sector compared to 79% in 2010. On the other hand, while corruption in the justice sector has reduced notably from 88.4% in 2010, it remains high at 57.1%.

In order to carry the positive result forward in a sustainable way, it is indispensable to enforce law most effectively without any favour, bias or fear, particularly for grand corruption, so as to promote accountable and transparent governance in all levels. Our biggest failure lies in not being able to send a strong signal that corruption is indeed a punishable offence for all.

We would nevertheless, like to move on in the New Year and beyond with a sense of optimism based on the good news from the survey. People's voice and demand must be strengthened for delivery on commitments made by political parties and leaders against corruption, which inspire us, especially when they reflect at least on paper what the people would like to see.

The reality is that too often do such commitments fail to meet delivery in practice. The burden of deficit of those who assume responsibility to govern riding on the gains achieved by passionate sacrifice made by the people falls on the people again and again. Hence, it is the people, constitutionally the most powerful and the only sovereign in democracy, who need to stand up.

The stronger and more sustained is the voice and vigilance of people, particularly the youth, to demand law enforcement, rule of law, accountability and transparency, the better is the possibility of effective corruption control.

Executive Director, Transparency International Bangladesh.

The article has been published in on 29 December, 2012