The kind of laxity and lassitude shown to economic criminals are at odds with the principles of modern state management. It’s very strange to learn almost every day at the large scale theft carried out by white collar criminals who then disappear either behind protection or go abroad. Authorities are seemingly unable to do anything to prevent such theft or robbery and the public are left bemused with such incidents reported regularly.
These incidents are increasingly becoming part of a state system that either is unable to prevent such criminality or doesn’t wish to. This doesn’t have political implications in a post political society we seem to be entering but is increasingly putting a question mark on the nature of the state.
An old legacy of 1971
Bangladesh is not new to economic crimes and even during the 1971 war, this was on. Large scale robbery increased dramatically during that period as many people were vulnerable and there was no one around to offer protection. Research shows the expansion this category of criminals in 1971. These people were professional criminals before but given the opportunities went big.
Of course 1971 produced its own criminals, those with political backing and known to us as razakars and members of Peace Committees who aided the Pakistan army. However, after the end of 1971 this particular type of criminals were wiped-out. A new form of criminals however emerged in their place. These people were able to take advantage of the post war scenario and they benefited a lot. And that stream has continued to flow with impunity that is now established as the rule of the day whether willingly or not.
Criminals and their crime masters
A series of crimes, both structural and incidental has been on for quite a while but their frequency is enhancing rapidly. Just as there is plain straight forward looting of criminals, there is aid and abetment of the same including gaining benefits without direct involvement by lending hands to crime. And almost all of these criminal masters enjoy impunity. This link of protection by the establishment goes back to years in history. It’s impossible to loot without protection as 1971 shows.
The case of G.K Shameem, the contractor caught with millions and almost 200 bank accounts is a point to ponder. He amassed an incredible sum of money some of it kept in his office but we don’t even know how much his real wealth estimate is. In a country where the common class 2 government officer has 2 crores at home, one can imagine how much money Shameem really has.
But how much money does his patrons have who helped Shameem become so rich? No contractor can get work if the engineers and project officials sign them in. But there is almost no news of any action against such people. We hear a rumour or two, a news item perhaps but the focus is entirely on the contractor not his patrons who are protected by the establishment. This group, the ones who ensure that crimes of enrichment take place easily is equivalent to the Peace committee members of 1971. It’s they who ensure that the field level thieves do their looting and give large shares to the bosses.
The recent incident of a businessman who has crippled several financial institutions and then ran off to Canada is a good example. It seems that he broke every rule in the book and got away because he had support from a section of Bangladesh Bank officials. The stolen amount is numbers is so enormous that it’s beyond most people’s comprehension. It was a collective effort that took years. This is true partnership in crime.
The collapse of the supervision system
But this also means that the supervisory system no longer works. This is where the concern mostly is. Is this lapse by choice or systemic? Is it that these people from the public and the private sector ganging up by passing the system or is the system simply unable to handle such crimes ?. Whatever the answer is, the fingers point to a state that is unable to protect its own people and assets.
Which brings up an even bigger issue. How does one survive in a state where the small timers are not protected but the big timers are? How does one define citizenship in such a state. And how does it define crime in a general sense in such states?
The nature of crime and criminals have increasingly become institutionalized and internalized within the state machinery. In the process, conventional governance assumption don’t fully apply. It seems that the criminals of today, direct and indirect, have developed an alliance that is stronger than the forces of the state that is supposed to deter them.
The most powerful force in state and society is no longer the formal state. That status is being shared, willingly or not with the very forces it’s supposed to disarm. It’s a very unusual situation and a new grammar of governance is needed to understand this state, let alone govern.