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‘Zero tolerance’ policy in question

How did they accumulate so much money from national leadership positions?

Amin Al  Rasheed

Amin Al Rasheed

Fri, 28 Jun 24

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, at a recent press conference in Ganobhaban regarding her recent visit to India, hinted at certain wrongdoers, saying, "They have accumulated so much money, but couldn't stay in the country; What's the use of such profits?" The question is, how did they amass so much money? Did government intelligence agencies, ministries, or officials turn a blind eye when they bought acres of land from powerful positions, purchased flats worth millions in prime city areas, built resorts in various parts of the country, created vast estates in their own or their in-laws' names, or deposited hundreds of crores of taka in banks under the names of their spouses and children?

Are they such clever thieves that they managed to do all this under the nose of the state machinery? Or did everyone know about their misdeeds but lacked the courage to speak up? Or perhaps those involved turned a blind eye, believing they were too powerful to be touched by any action against them? Recently, the former chairman of the National Board of Revenue (NBR), Badruddin Rahman, has disclosed a shocking revelation regarding corruption issues involving Matiur Rahman, a recently criticized former member of the NBR. He is known for his integrity and courage as an officer.

In a talk show on a private television channel, he mentioned that during his tenure as Chairman of the NBR under the One-Eleven or caretaker government, he issued orders to replace Matiur Rahman amidst various allegations. However, the implementation of that replacement was immediately halted by the highest echelons of the military at that time. Not only that, but even Chief of Army Staff, General Moeen U Ahmed, called and requested not to replace Matiur Rahman. Badruddin Rahman stated, "Matiur Rahman was such an influential officer that he had access to the bedrooms of BNP's Finance Minister Saifur Rahman and Awami League's Finance Minister Shah AMS Kibria."

If Badruddin Rahman's statement is accurate, it unequivocally proves that Matiur Rahman is a shrewd officer. His involvement in significant financial dealings over recent years suggests that these actions have not been recent but have spanned many years. Moreover, he has utilized these funds, allegedly gained through such activities, to influence even some of the most powerful individuals in the country.

The question is, how did he get so close to those powerful people? How close the army chief himself lobbied to prevent the transfer of an NBR officer! Others like him who have recently been accused in the media of abusing state power to become owners of huge wealth, did all of them do these things under the auspices of the powerful?

There are two ways to become wealthy overnight: one is in reality, and the other is in a story. In the story, one can instantly become rich if they possess Aladdin's magical lamp. When you rub the lamp, a genie appears and grants you a wish. The genie might say, "Your wish is my command, master!" Then the owner of the lamp could say, "Make me the owner of a luxurious apartment spanning 3,000 square feet in Gulshan-Banani-Baridhara area of the capital, or build me a splendid palace, or grant me a sprawling estate of a hundred acres," and so on. However, this is not realistically possible. In reality, you can get rich quickly by doing business. However, it is difficult to get rich quickly even by doing business in legitimate ways, without cheating people, taking loans from banks without repaying them, evading huge amounts of tax.

Even then, when a businessman buys a luxury car worth millions or owns hundreds of acres of land in upscale urban areas, it doesn't surprise or raise questions among the general public. However, when a government official or employee, even in the highest administrative positions, cannot afford to buy a flat worth three to four crore taka in Dhaka city with their salary, it becomes impossible. That is, it is absolutely impossible for an honest government official to own hundreds or thousands of crores of rupees after his lifetime. So how did the officials or employees who are looking for huge wealth and prosperity achieve them? Government officials can acquire huge wealth in several ways.

1. It is difficult to find any government service provider where one can receive services without bribery or coercion unless one is politically or socially influential. Bribery has become so systematically entrenched that those who offer bribes often do not perceive it as a crime anymore. Many willingly offer bribes to expedite processes. Last year in February, a senior journalist's statement went viral on social media where he said, "Since corruption cannot be stopped, it should be 'way of life' and legalized." A former finance minister referred to bribery as 'speed money'. Therefore, in countries where policymakers and responsible individuals refrain from formulating specific action plans for corruption control or refrain from advising the government directly on combating corruption, reducing corruption becomes not just difficult but seemingly impossible. The declaration of zero tolerance towards corruption in every national service provider institution, systematically addressing and confronting corruption or turning a blind eye to it, remains a significant question of whether it's genuinely combatting corruption effectively or not.

2. In exchange for providing illegal benefits to large businesses or individuals in any profession, government officials and employees often engage in substantial corruption. The extent of the bribe depends on the amount of benefits provided and the level of risk associated with offering those benefits.

3. Many who evade taxes worth millions are politically powerful; however, they cannot evade such large sums solely through political power. In these cases, they also have to pay substantial bribes to the relevant government offices. To evade one crore in taxes, they might have to pay a bribe of 20 lakhs. It’s a win-win situation. In other words, both parties benefit. The country, however, suffers as a result.

4. A major avenue of corruption is government procurement. Headlines in the media have reported shocking prices: a curtain costing 37 lakh taka, a pillow costing 6 thousand taka, a mobile charger costing 23 thousand taka, a 20-taka pair of hand gloves priced at 35 thousand taka, a 15-taka test tube costing 56 thousand taka, a multi-plug priced at 6 thousand taka, 500-taka rexine priced at 84 thousand taka, an iron or steel nut in a state-owned fertilizer factory costing 1 crore taka per kilogram, and an iron spring weighing half a kilogram costing 16 lakh taka.
Whose pockets have this money gone into? How much does the government spend each year on procurement, and how much is stolen and looted in the name of purchasing goods? Does anyone have these figures?

5. Various development projects funded by the government are the main means of stealing large sums of money simultaneously. River dredging projects, among others, face the most allegations. There are also reports of funds being withdrawn even before the project is completed or without the project being carried out at all. In such cases, everyone involved in the project, starting from the contractor, receives a share of the money - this is also a long-standing complaint.

6. Allegations of extorting large sums of money (ransom) by blackmailing citizens against many corrupt officers and employees of law enforcement and intelligence agencies are nothing new. Especially, there are reports of demanding large sums of money by threatening to include big businessmen and those directly or indirectly associated with opposition political parties in the anti-government list.

Recently, headlines in the media have reported on Additional DIG Sheikh Rafiqul Islam Shimul, working in the Dhaka City Special Branch (SB), who has been accused of abusing power to amass a vast fortune. Following this, NSI officer Akram Hossain also made headlines. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has found that he possesses unexplained assets worth 67 million taka.

For the sake of national security, SB and NSI officers monitor politicians and people from various professions. However, when allegations arise against any officer of these agencies for abusing power to amass such vast wealth, it raises many questions among the public. There are allegations that some corrupt members of these agencies extort large sums of money by threatening to create negative reports against businessmen and politicians. These incidents raise the question of whether these allegations are indeed proven.

7. There are reports of using state power to seize land, buying a portion of land and forcibly taking the rest, or compelling owners to sell their land. As a result, this has also become a way to become wealthy overnight.

8. It is heard that many people become immensely wealthy by using state power and their positions to engage in various legal and illegal businesses and investments in different places.

Beyond this, there are certainly many more methods that ordinary people cannot even imagine. The question is, regardless of the process by which they amass such large sums of money, does it not come to the attention of any state agency or monitoring institution?

The media reports that the police have found evidence of seven illegal passports issued to former IG Benazir Ahmed. The question arises: if he obtained passports in this manner, were officials at any level of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs unaware? How could one person manage to create seven passports in their own name? Does this imply a major flaw in the state system, or is the entire system corrupt, with everyone somehow benefiting?

The bigger question is that several individuals have come forward who have amassed immense wealth through such means. Many names have surfaced before, but what percentage of these allegations reflect reality? Up until proven otherwise, everyone is considered innocent! Therefore, how many individuals will be apprehended, or does the state actually want to apprehend everyone who has become wealthy using state power? That question is also on everyone's mind.

Author: Journalist and Writer

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