The two government offices from which people expect much are the Fire Service and the Anti-Corruption Commission. Once, the Fire Service used to be the butt of jokes but their quality of services have recently improved. They are fading away from frustrated public memory. But ACC is a much bigger fish and is probably the most visible office in the country. Public expectation from the ACC may well be higher than even the state’s judicial system which has become a space from which people would rather stay away. But the problem is that the ACC does seek public attention and then fails to deliver much. The result is a deep sense of frustration and a feeling that curbing corruption is either outside their capacity or skill or the system just doesn’t care that much about it.
What ACC can or can’t do?
ACC doesn’t operate outside the law of the land or its implementation process. That means it doesn’t operate at a higher rate of efficiency than the rest of the law enforcement system in the country. Thus what ails the law and order system also ails ACC. However, the public relations problem of the organization is that its constantly hyping itself as the anti- corruption super hero of Bangladesh. And that is a awesome expectation generator.
Thus public expectation soars and people expect that all the economic extremists/Jongis will be brought down, the same way the Islamist Jongis were brought down by the police and RAB. Unfortunately for the ACC, there is no ‘encounter’ opportunities. There is no way of bumping off the corrupt the way the police or RAB do when criminals are caught, Jongis are apprehended.
Thus, its objective is the same as other agencies but its process and power is not. It has to deal with the most powerful people of the country who are also connected to an entire network that is almost immune to any scrutiny. In fact, these people are all walking free and there is almost no pressure on them from any quarter. And its against these people that the ACC is expected to act. Given the reality, this is almost impossible.
Thus ACC tries to do what nobody wants to or can do. Is it fair to expect ACC to do that?
Is ACC rally about anti-corruption?
Bangladesh has a particular type of economic system in place which is called Network capitalism or crony capitalism. It means economic gains are made not on the basis of market forces and competition but connections among network members. This network dominates all other forces where the concept of corruption is far more fluid than in conventional wisdom. In fact, the concept of corruption itself is invalid when national values or laws of the land don’t run the network. Thus the conflict between the objectives of the ACC and the Network is fundamental and structural.
This means that while the wealth making system that is in existence in Bangladesh of the ruling class depends runs in one stream, the ACC in another. Since the ruling class decides how the country which includes the ACC functions indirectly, how can the ACC is expected to succeed is difficult to understand. The result is a lot of blaming of the ACC for failing to snare the corrupt when the system of network capitalism which has matured for long protects the corrupt so well.
In a way , the independence of the ACC is itself a problem as it has to work all alone against the system. But corruption can be stayed only when the law enforcers, the legal system, the political system, the corruption facilitating agencies, the social network, the influence channels including media all are in place but that exactly is what is missing. Thus while the ACC makes a lot of noise, people expect more, the results are far less. And the result is national disappointment.
What the ACC should do
Perhaps what the ACC should do is to limit itself to one sector and pilot some innovative projects to prevent and reduce corruption. What it tries to do now is end the entire load of national corruption which is impossible. And it simply doesn’t have the resources to tackle the entire landscape.
Which is why it needs a reality check, a realistic plan and match its intent with its resources. It can’t challenge or change Bangladesh’s state of corruption but may maybe instead of jabbing its weapon here and there, set some successful examples. It can focus on fewer targets and set up some public confidence building projects before trying to solve the problem nationally if times get better.