Thursday, October 28, 2004

Bangladesh: TI Corruption Index - A Further Analysis


It is natural to conclude that the media in Bangladesh has a big responsibility to bear in the findings of the TI corruption report of 2004 where Bangladesh for the fourth time in a row has been designated the most corrupt nation in the world. It should be obvious where this perception comes from - that ordinary Bangladeshis who read New Delhi leaning newspapers like The Daily Star, Prothom Alo and Dainik Janakantha or attend seminars organized by New Delhi inspired entities like the Centre for Policy Dialogue or listen to New Delhi influenced politicians like Sheikh Hasina or Dr. Kamal Hossain or parties expounding a New Delhi agenda like the JSD or Workers Party will eventually become anti-Bangladeshi and feel a sense of hopelessness and despair for the nation.

TI CORRUPTION INDEX - A FURTHER ANALYSIS
MBI MUNSHI

The Finance Minister of Bangladesh appears to have become quite shrill in denouncing and criticizing our local media for presenting a not altogether happy picture of our nation. He seems to have been primarily concerned with the state of mind of the many consumers who receive certain information based products and programmes (i.e. newspapers, web portals, cable news, and radio and television news) within Bangladesh and secondarily the manner and content of information that leaks out to the international media and the impression this gives of our country to investment and donor agencies abroad. His main contention is that the information given out is usually wrong, exaggerated or sensationalized. Is all this an excuse for censorship and a means for hiding the failures of government or is there more to this debate?

The question is not answered by TI’s response that the information and data regarding corruption is derived from different agencies and institutions (and not the media) like the World Economic Forum, International Institute for Management Development, Freedom House, European Bank for Reconstruction and the World Bank (see The Daily Star – Wednesday October 27, 2004) as this begs the further question as to where they derive their perceptions from. The answer may be that there perceptions are gleaned from reports emanating from Bangladesh through the aforesaid media or in fact that they have direct evidence of corruption in Bangladesh. If the answer is in the latter order, then the perception index can no longer be called that - instead it becomes the factual or actual index of corruption and this requires substantive and credible proof and a lot more work and integrity to collate or put together. I do not believe the TI has such resources to engage in that kind of undertaking. This then returns us to square one and the Finance Ministers concerns about information and on to my additional question as to how transparent Transparency International really is.

Of course, information (as we already know) can be distorted, manipulated, perverted, misinterpreted and even falsified to present or fit a particular perspective involving some ideological, political or economic stance or objective as was well understood by propagandists such as Joseph Goebbels and political scientists like Karl Marx and Antonio Gramsci. This type of analysis was further developed to include the phenomenon of imperialism and literature during the twentieth century through the writings of Edward Said, Franz Fanon, Noam Chomsky and many others. Indispensable to this understanding is the idea of ‘power’ and ‘power relations’ that was from its inception included in this growing field of intellectual inquiry and dwelt upon by writers such as Michel Foucault and most recently Arundhati Roy. This intellectual enterprise has not remained static and has extended itself to even the law, religion and education but unfortunately is still in its infancy in Bangladeshi universities and other teaching institutions as a subject not worthy of serious study – is this deliberate? Are we seeing a conspiracy behind every palm tree and banana plantation or should we really be worried?

The point I am trying to make in this article is that the principal reason that Bangladeshis have such a poor image and perception of themselves is due to this idea of information control, distribution and propagation. We should not be surprised, therefore, that organizations such as Transparency International (TI) may pick up on this despondency (relating to corruption) through its analysis of the press and media and that others may exploit its results to create a self-defeating image of the country which then becomes a vicious circle that Bangladesh may find impossible to get out of – well that is the theory but it does not have to be the nations reality. As has been pointed out by R.W. Gordon in explaining an idea of Gramsci’s, “Gramsci says ... that one must look closely at these belief-systems, these deeply held assumptions about politics, economics, hierarchy, work, leisure, and the nature of reality, which are profoundly paralysis-inducing because they make it so hard for people (including the ruling classes themselves) even to imagine that life could be different and better.” (R.W. Gordon – ‘New Developments in Legal Theory’ (1982) in Lloyd’s Introduction to Jurisprudence).

It is natural to conclude that the media in Bangladesh has a big responsibility to bear in the findings of the TI corruption report of 2004 where Bangladesh for the fourth time in a row has been designated the most corrupt nation in the world. It should be obvious where this perception comes from - that ordinary Bangladeshis who read New Delhi leaning newspapers like The Daily Star, Prothom Alo and Dainik Janakantha or attend seminars organized by New Delhi inspired entities like the Centre for Policy Dialogue or listen to New Delhi influenced politicians like Sheikh Hasina or Dr. Kamal Hossain or parties expounding a New Delhi agenda like the JSD or Workers Party will eventually become anti-Bangladeshi and feel a sense of hopelessness and despair for the nation.

Why is it that not one of these personalities, entities or political parties has questioned what TI is actually trying to measure or compare? I have raised this issue in a previous article but it bears repeating. The TI report puts forward a perception index that compares ratings of countries like the USA, Finland, Canada, Australia, Britain, France and Germany alongside other countries like Haiti, Bangladesh, India (it should now be obvious why India would want us lower down on the index), Pakistan, some poor African countries and some very rich Middle Eastern countries as well as some technologically advanced but authoritarian regimes in the Far-East.

Many of the countries on this list have had centuries of development with their fair share of exploitation, colonialism, wars, organized criminality and corruption, plunder, piracy, slavery, genocide, expropriation and imperialism. It is a wonder to me that corruption can still be found in these societies – what would be the point now that these countries are rich and in control (maybe it is simply greed)). Other nations on this list derive their wealth from natural resources, so corruption becomes unnecessary, as everything is financed, more than adequately, by the state and everyone working in government is excessively rich already (this may, however, involve a governance deficit that is close to a form of moral corruption). What corruption exists in these societies is foreign induced corruption where business contracts can be purchased and national interest’s compromised and where refusal is usually not an option since military protection from enemies will not be forthcoming or a foreign planned and financed coup becomes more than likely (e.g. Chile (Salvador Allende), Venezuela ( Hugo Chavez) and Iran (Mossadeq) to name just a few). Actually, it is not called corruption in the United States, as much of it is done abroad and a lot is not disclosed to the American public who may well consider it corrupt. This type of corruption was brilliantly portrayed in Micheal Moore’s documentary, ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ and then silently ignored by the political elites including the Democrats and apparently TI. This type of corruption perpetrated by rich western countries against every other country is what I call off-shore corruption – it is very similar to off-shore banking where companies who want to evade paying taxation in their own countries put their money outside the reach of the authorities and carry out financial transactions through secret off-shore accounts. The difference here is that to increase profits of a company - do in another country what you cannot do in yours – encourage corruption overseas and reap the benefits through higher profits and bigger business contracts (usually construction and infrastructure work in countries that desperately need it and arms sales to their military which they usually could do without).

Such corruption is generally and surreptitiously encouraged by many multinational companies and international organizations to get construction contracts in foreign lands (remember the Pergao Dam fiasco in Malaysia). A very good example is what Halliburton is doing in Iraq with the connivance of the United States government by monopolizing all the construction and development work in that country and earning billions of dollars in the process. Questions were only raised about corruption in Iraq when it was found that Halliburton was cheating the US government by charging excessive transport and feeding costs to the government. Similarly, on the other side corruption allegations were leveled against Russia, France and China who had been trying to trade with Iraq while UN sanctions were in place.

If this type of corruption was put into the account book of the country exporting the corruption and not the country that it actually happens in, I am sure that the TI index would look very different from what it is now. The remainder of the countries on the list (mentioned above) are either one-party states that ruthlessly and violently suppress any notion or thought of corruption and there are multi-party states where massive corruption is carried out by a few families (remember Suharto and Ferdinand Marcos – both favorites of the US for many years). Also in some of these Far East countries some forms of corruption are legalized so that a percentage of the legal transaction has to be given to the officials as a tip or service charge. In other countries, corruption is part and parcel of the political process or confined in the hands of a few oligarchs who control a massive proportion of the nation’s economy. There may be a combination of all these factors as we can see in South American countries. The TI report does not, therefore, compare alike with alike but very different systems with cultural, social and legal differences that would warp any comparison into virtual meaninglessness.

A major omission in the corruption index produced by TI is the illegal activities of businesses that do not involve state level corruption. If the report were to take into account corruption of the nature perpetrated by Enron, WorldCom, Martha Stewart, Vivendi International, Arthur Anderson and the numerous other companies caught up in the financial scandals of 2002 and 2003 (many of these companies ‘cooked their books’ during the Clinton Administration and was only discovered once the illegalities became untenable during the Bush Administration) then the index would change significantly. Of course, for this to happen, TI would have to greatly extend the meaning of corruption to include business entities, multinational companies and organizations, off-shore corruption assisted by governments and to include perceptions of the volumes of corruption involved and not just the perceived scale of the problem within the society. We would also require consideration as to the source of corruption and not simply the location where it is discovered or occurs. In other words, TI would have to garner the perceptions of the people as to who they think is more guilty – their own government or the foreign government or multinational company that is doing the arm twisting and inducing. If the answer is in the latter than the TI index should reflect that perception accordingly.

The question still remains as to where all this leaves Bangladesh. In my opinion, I think it is entirely unfair that Bangladesh should be compared with countries that are far more developed and that are technologically, politically and economically advanced. Bangladesh should be placed in a separate ranking reflecting the stage of the countries development and which also reflects the time of its independence and be compared to countries that became independent during that same period. There is no justification in having the hare race with the tortoise since the starting point is miles apart and the hare already has a huge head start. However, this does not exonerate Bangladesh from dealing with the widespread and free-for-all corruption in the country and introducing the necessary reforms to eliminate it i.e. Public Complaints Commission, Anti-Corruption Commission and an Ombudsman.


Much of the corruption that occurs in the country is small scale and can be more properly described as tips (baksheesh) but even this must be controlled as far as possible. The more serious corruption involving a few thousand takas to the lakhs of takas is confined within the hands of a few government officials and must be eradicated completely. The really serious and massive corruption involving crores of takas belongs in the domain of a few political, professional and business families and accounts for the largest proportion of internal corruption in the country and will be the hardest to eliminate.

But all these variations of internal corruption and black money does not totally account for what has been estimated to be 50% of GDP and the biggest drain on our resources. Internal corruption or corruption that consists of financial transactions solely within Bangladesh and amongst Bangladeshis is very small indeed. The real dishonest money earner in Bangladesh is the illegal smuggling with India and which is enthusiastically encouraged by India since it is nearly all one way. There is little doubt that this state of affairs can only be maintained with the connivance of politicians, businessmen and professionals within the country (remember the 1996 Stock Market scandal where an estimated 5000 Crore was siphoned off to India and the banking Scandal involving two Marwari businessmen involving 300 Crore) but it still to be determined whether they have much choice in the matter since stopping the cross border smuggling could lead to friction with India and more desperate measures by that country.


This subject is so intriguing to me because of the close relationship between the German Embassy and Indian High Commission in Dhaka along with the pro-Indian elements in Bangladesh who use the Germans as a go-between with the Indians and the international community when direct contacts are considered too suspicious. The Germans are also the sponsors of Transparency International.

Now do you get the picture?


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