The Myth Of The Anti-Corruption Drive

[Cross posted at E-Bangladesh]

Today 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]:

 Bangladesh CPI Trend

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 outlier 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 – A, where corruption (C) equals monopoly power (M) combined with discretion by public officials (D) minus accountability (A). According to this formula, the current caretaker government’s monopoly over all instruments of state power; its powers of arbitrary arrest without warrant, and its detention of citizens without due-process rights; and the limitations it has placed on the press as the citizens’ watchdog, all conspire to undermine the government’s stated goal of reducing corruption.

The crucial element of fighting corruption – accountability – is conspicuously missing from the current framework. Though the leaders of the caretaker government may have good intentions, the government itself, operating under a state of emergency, is institutionally stacked against them.

What we are seeing today in the TI data is the result of an unaccountable government’s "anti-corruption" drive. As with all military government’s in the past, the results are predictable. It is no coincidence that at the bottom of TI’s list this year is Burma, one of the world’s longest ruling military dictatorships.

Bangladesh has been, and remains, a very corrupt nation. However, corruption in Bangladesh is systemic and cannot be solved by decapitating the political leadership, and it certainly cannot be done by an unaccountable military government. There is no question that individuals in past governments in Bangladesh have engaged in massive corruption. But that corruption has not been limited to democratic governments. Perhaps the most corrupt leader Bangladesh has had was the military dictator Hussain Mohammad Ershad. Until institutions in Bangladesh become more transparent, until governments in Bangladesh become more accountable, and until power in Bangladesh ceases to be concentrated amongst the few, Bangladesh will continue to struggle with rampant corruption. Rounding up politicians in the name of an "anti-corruption" drive may grab headlines, but the deeper damage caused by the application of draconian laws and the complete disregard for the rule of law by this government is breeding even more corruption.

One thing is certain. The longer an unaccountable military regime rules Bangladesh the more corrupt Bangladesh will become. Bangladeshis have been forced to give up their essential liberties with the promise of "free and fair elections" and a "corruption-free" future. As long as the military rules Bangladesh, the people are likely to get neither.


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13 Responses to The Myth Of The Anti-Corruption Drive

  1. ZaFa says:

    The CPI score ranges from 0 to 10 (10 representing the least corrupt country.)
    From 2001 to 2006 the CPI score actually had an increasing trend, indicating the “perception of corruption” was actually getting lower. CPI increased from 0.4 to 2.0.
    But then this CTG appeared from nowhere, and declared emergency, curbed civil rights, imposed restrictions on media, humiliated newspaper editors and University teachers, used brute force to physically hurt unarmed people including journalists, amended laws to help throw people in jail indefinitely without legal representation….all in the name of fighting corruption, and the result is…. not a decimal point increase in CPI score.

  2. Mash says:

    Zafa, clearly you are not looking on the bright side. The “anti-corruption” drive has managed to not make corruption worse, yet! :d

    I wont be surprised if I now hear the argument from the military government that more rights need to be surpressed in order for the “anti-corruption” drive to be successful. Because, you know, the corruption must now be beat out of the Bangladeshis. Kind of like an exorcism!

  3. Imran says:

    After one member of our SHUSHIL SAMAJ, Debapriya Bhattachajya bit the dust by accepting the diplomatic offer by this military regime (which I believe is an effort by the unelected regime to \

  4. Imran says:

    After one member of our SHUSHIL SAMAJ, Debapriya Bhattachajya bit the dust by accepting the diplomatic offer by this military regime (which I believe is an effort by the unelected regime to “buy” and “quiet”), its another one of our civic citizen, Muzaffar Ahmed bites the dust. It was amazing(may be not!) to see him defending the move to 7th (the score virtually unchanged). It’s the members of the civic society, too busy buttering or defending this undemocratic regime.Current times beat the Soviet era. Bangladesh’s “iron curtain” is unveiling through the actions of its “Shushil Samaj!”

  5. Mash says:

    Imran, Mr. Ahmed was quite vocal in his support for this government when it first took over. For a man who tracks corruption, the lure of an “anti-corruption” drive must have been very appealing – so what if a few people get tortured or killed, so what if people are thrown in jail; its all for the “betterment” of the state.

    So I guess he’s having a little trouble letting go of this monster – Dr. Frankenstein loved his monster till the bitter end.

  6. Rumi says:

    You are on a run Mash!

    Thanks so much for this post. The bar graph was amazing. No wonder I didn’t see this graph in daily Star or prothom Alo.

  7. AsifY says:

    What I found very telling was this article in the new age in which “premier economists” are questioning the validity of this index! Now, as anyone can read, this is a corruption PERCEPTION index. I have it from good sources who’ve worked inside TIB that the methodology (at least until 2005) was superbly questionable. So question is, why wake up to this reality NOW, in 2007? Where were our premier economists before this (I never heard them criticise the TI index then)?

    I’ll link to the New Age article tomorrow when their links settle down. Expect a post on TI methodology and the media lafalafi over perceived as opposed to real corruption soon!

  8. Yohay says:

    The military junta won’t let the facts disturb them…

  9. Mash says:

    Yohay, the junta makes its own reality :-w

    Rumi, the editorial in today’s Daily Star was even more bizarre. They are doing there best to spin this positively. God forbid the “anti-corruption” drive turns out to be ineffective!

    AsifY, I look forward to your post. Corruption at the macro level is very difficult to measure. I tried not to address the validity of TI’s methodology in this post. I wanted to point out that even if you accept their numbers, and these numbers have been used by this military regime to paint Bangladesh as hopelessly corrupt, you have to accept that this government has failed to improve on these very numbers, whereas the previous “corrupt” governments had always improved. If they live by the numbers they should also die by the numbers. They cant have it both ways. Now they are spinning hard to blame the past governments for the current numbers. It reminds me of George W Bush blaming everything on President Clinton, even though its been almost seven years since Clinton left office. Its pathetic.

  10. AsifY says:

    Oh no for sure! That’s my beef with these “civil society” economists as well. Now that the numbers are unchanged, they are out questioning validity and methodology. Makes us lesser mortals wonder where they were all this time.

  11. Iconus Clustus says:


    This is kind of irrelevant, but I can’t help but say a few words on the matter… it is regarding your allusion to Dr. Frankenstein and the monster he created.

    Time and again I have seen people using this referrence erroneously… it felt a bit uncomfortable when you did it. Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein had a motif, where the monster was not really the monster we like to hate. All through out, if you read the story, you will see yourself as sympathizing with this lonely creature (depicting our own situation in the inceasingly insensitvie and polarized world of the advantaged and the disadvantaged), not abhoring it.

    Therefore, rightly put, the allusion should bring in the jonogon as the monstrous creation of the elites, who now they need to literally beat around and send to lonely exile up in the cold artic!

  12. Iconus Clustus says:

    I am sure the civil society who used the TI numbers to state and validate an intervention such as the current one, is and will bei using the numbers to speak of the current situation as well – and if and when they fail, the methodology will be questioned. However, this is an argument that desrvevs some of our attention as well.

    Let me register my opinion on TI and/or TIB and their surveys. I have always held that organizations being fed foreign money cannot and should be the judge, the moral arbiter of how well or bad we are doing in terms of corruption. When they do it, they have ulterior motives, and those we cannot overlook at any cost.

    Consecutive championships that we were accorded with has borne out its fruits already… since the political governments are not being able to govern and ensure corruption free atmosphere, intervention of the morally upright is needed, even if it is imposed and doesn’t reflect the demand of the people in any sense of the term.

    So, the civil society rallied around the idea and welcomed the military to set things aright. Dr. Yunus’s award was pretty timely as well. More funds for finance capitalism in the private sector at the expense of govermental development programs since the governments are unaccountable and corrupt – the scores tell us that, right?

    It is clear as the day light for me how and why the so-called civil society will rally behind it. Somehow, their own methodolgy is backfiring on them right now… but is it really? Couldn’t the following be enough of a justification behind the stalled growth: “In order for us to see the benefits of anti-corruption drive, we need to give it time. We have shaken the jar and elements will take time to settle, when we will filter them out in time. Anti-corruption drive is not a majic bullet, that upon firing things will all on a sudden change dramatically.”

    Therefore, whatever the political value of these numbers be for people like us or for the people in the administration, the fact they are not reflective of genuine concerns and certainly do not show a way out of the situation remains true at large.

    The FACT OF THE MATTER IS, whatever the TI score, this military junta needs to pack up and leave… everything making up the present context leads me to conclude that.

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