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Unprecedented Benazir

No one Knows about corruption of powerful while they are in power!

Zeauddin Ahmed

Zeauddin Ahmed

Mon, 10 Jun 24

I find it hard to believe the widespread allegations of Benazir Ahmed, the former Inspector General of Police, amassing substantial illegal wealth; after all, he had received the Integrity Award from the Ministry of Home Affairs. Integrity refers to righteous conduct, good behavior, and actions enriched with principles and ethics. The norm is to award officials and employees for honesty, integrity, and dedication to duty. Benazir Ahmed not only received the Integrity Award but also won the BPM Award five times for his brave role in the police force. If he lacked integrity, it would be unlikely for him to receive the BPM Award five times solely for his courage.

In line with the government's directive to implement the National Integrity Strategy Action Plan, an 'Ethics Committee' has been established in every government institution. As the executive head of the Security Printing Corporation or the Mint, I also formed a committee around 2013 and regularly sent the minutes of the committee meetings to the ministry. However, due to the disapproval of the Mint's board of directors, I could not introduce the award. Dr. Atiur Rahman led the board, and Dr. Aslam Alam, the then secretary of the Financial Institutions Division of the Ministry of Finance, opined that the institution pays salaries and allowances for working with honesty and competence; thus, there is no scope for additional awards. Rather, those who do not work with honesty and competence should be officially reprimanded. I agreed with him. Despite the decision of the board of directors, Governor Fazle Kabir did not issue me a certificate of commendation, possibly for the same reason.

Immediately before my retirement, in the last board meeting, the chairman of the National Board of Revenue, Mohammad Nazibur Rahman, proposed that I be awarded a certificate of commendation signed by the chairman of the board of directors and the governor, recognizing my efficiency and integrity. However, the governor later refused to issue the certificate, arguing that it was not appropriate to award a managing director for simply fulfilling his duties. Another reason for not issuing the commendation was that I had refused to comply with an order from my batchmate, Deputy Governor S.K. Sur, and the governor. However, the National Board of Revenue did have provisions for providing financial benefits to efficient officers, though I am not sure if that provision still exists.

There was significant criticism regarding the financial rewards given to officers who identified and collected evaded taxes. It was said that those who facilitated tax evasion were the ones identifying it later for the reward. Benazir Ahmed was also recognized by the National Board of Revenue; in the fiscal year 2020-21, he was selected as the top taxpayer of the Mymensingh region. This suggests that he had many legal investments, without which he could not have been the top taxpayer. Various media reports indicate that he acquired and forcibly occupied hundreds of bighas of land across the country, building resorts, garden houses, and mansions. Establishments on such a vast area of land surely did not appear overnight, yet no one noticed, not even the local administration. So, what is the point of having branch offices of different investigative authorities at the local level? It seems everyone remained silent, possibly out of fear due to a lack of good governance.

Good governance is scarce worldwide and almost non-existent in Bangladesh, with little hope for its future. Some media reports claim that Benazir Ahmed has vast wealth in various countries, with Malaysia being his 'second home.' Malaysia grants citizenship to investors who invest a certain amount. The term 'second home' first surfaced during the BNP era and became widely known during Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed's caretaker government when many fled to their second homes. During the Awami League government, there were talks of 'Begum Para' in Canada. Previously, laundered money was deposited in Switzerland, but now it goes to Dubai. Not just Bangladesh, but thousands of people from India, Pakistan, and other countries are laundering money abroad. Politicians in these countries pledge to bring back the laundered money during their election campaigns but remain silent once in power, as the recipient countries conceal the information. The Financial Intelligence Unit can do nothing about it.

The Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit has no effective power abroad. The Western world, including the US, has created Anti-Money Laundering or Financial Intelligence Units to prevent international terrorist activities. If the laundered money is not used for terrorism, they consider it legitimate. Despite the opportunities to launder money in various Muslim and non-Muslim countries, why did Benazir Ahmed foolishly invest so heavily in the country? He is neither uneducated nor foolish. He holds the highest degrees in English Language and Literature from Dhaka University and also has a PhD. Besides his highest degrees, he had immense power. If one has power, there are people who can devise schemes to launder illegal money. Benazir is not the only person in Bangladesh who has been deeply involved in corruption using his power; many others have been and still are. Many perform Hajj after acquiring wealth through corruption, and Benazir Ahmed has also performed Hajj. Corruption is only discovered when one loses power. During the BNP regime, no BNP member was caught for bribery or corruption; the same is observed in the Jatiya Party and Awami League governments. No secretary or minister's corruption is known while in power, only after losing it. The same officials who take bribes and engage in corruption also receive promotions and medals.

Before appointing or promoting to high positions, positive reports from various intelligence agencies are required. Now, it seems these reports only verify political loyalty, not honesty or competence. Those giving the reports lack integrity, leading to 'like water, like rice.' Recently, the chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission made a significant remark; he refused to take responsibility for all corruption in the country, questioning why the ACC should investigate all corruption. His point should be considered seriously. Every government institution undergoes internal audits, and the government’s Audit Directorate conducts audits almost annually. Despite these audits, how do employees or officials manage to take so many bribes and engage in such corruption? From the media reports detailing Benazir Ahmed’s assets daily, it seems he amassed hundreds of crores openly. Did he accumulate this wealth overnight? Certainly not. If all the media reports are true, hundreds of people were involved in his corruption. Who are they?

It is unfortunate that there was no prior indication of Benazir Ahmed's illegal assets detected by the investigative eyes of journalists. Various electronic media are seen investigating corruption, yet not a hint of Benazir Ahmed's corruption was exposed. So, what is the purpose of having hundreds of newspapers and electronic media in the country? Now, prominent journalists are loudly claiming that they knew everything but were too scared to report it. Don't journalists know that despite over a hundred journalists being killed by Israeli shelling in Gaza, other journalists did not flee out of fear? If just a few mainstream newspapers had united against Benazir’s egregious corruption, the Ministry of Home Affairs would have been compelled to take their reports seriously. Numerous YouTubers abroad criticize the government harshly, mixing truth and falsehood, but even they did not mention Benazir’s corruption. It is regrettable for the nation that those who take bribes and engage in corruption are now the harshest critics of Benazir’s corruption in offices, courts, and neighborhoods. Even more disheartening is that Benazir Ahmed himself had declared a crusade against corruption, vowing not to spare any corrupt individuals.

Significant fear among influential bribery-takers and corrupt individuals only spread during the caretaker government of Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed. At that time, bribe-taking officials and employees of various offices and agencies extorted money from major corrupt figures. The experience of that time was that the stricter the law and its enforcement, the higher the level of bribery. Even Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and Finance Minister Saifur Rahman had to include undeclared assets in their tax returns. During that period, it was impossible to find the owners of prestigious car brands like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Jaguar; these cars were seen abandoned and neglected on the streets.

Therefore, bribery and corruption are not new phenomena. There are countless Benazir Ahmeds in the country, and how feasible is it to eliminate them? Political parties and the public are enablers of corruption; those with more wealth receive party nominations and are elected by the people as their representatives. No madrasa, mosque, temple, cleric, or priest has ever rejected haram money as donations.

Author: Columnist, former executive director of Bangladesh Bank and former MD of Mint

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