This is what Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is like. A snail-pace, lame duck constitutional body formed in the midst of corruption sweeping everything and involving everyone from ministers, bureaucrats, officials and employees in every spheres of administration. Legal systems and education - the theme factory to produce future leaders (!) - have also tainted by corruption from highest level to the bottom. They all pose like nationalists, occupy key positions and lecture about the value of honesty and ethics of good governance. They claim to be prime contributors to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's mission to make Bangladesh a "golden country" that her father Bangabandhu Sherikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation, dreamt of.
The ACC has taken on many cases of corruption over the years and conducted investigations - but left them mostly inconclusive or in a dire strait without any specific direction. The ACC has failed to perform its duties. It could not really draw the curtain on corrupt persons and bring them to justice.
It is often alleged that ACC at times bowed to pressure from the people being investigated, to the power of money and influence, and to its own whims. Thus, corruption got further boost as the main instrument to trap the rats did not work as per its mandate and expectation of the government and the people. Some of the rats made retreat even before entering the iron cage while others also found the door open and got safely out. Listed as corrupt they came out as heroes or even saints with no dust on their self - though everybody including those in the ACC had spoken bad about them.
In a latest surprise, the ACC gave clean chit to all accused in the much-talked-about Padma Bridge graft case. It cleared them from the charge as the ACC investigation did not find any evidence of 'corruption conspiracy' in hiring consultant for the Padma Bridge Project.
"The ACC investigation team submitted its final report on Padma Bridge graft case to the Commission. No one is found guilty of anything wrong. So, the Commission gives its approval to the final report," ACC Chairman M Badiuzzman told a press briefing at the ACC conference room.
He said the ACC earlier carried out an inquiry into the corruption allegation in the Padma Bridge project and it wanted to submit the final report in 2012 as there was lack of adequate evidence. But it did not submit it since there was a request from the World Bank to continue the inquiry, he said.
He said the ACC filed a case of 'corruption conspiracy' in December 2012 based on prima facie evidence. "We had hoped we would get more information during the investigation. The investigation team also went to Canada to collect evidence over the Padma Bridge graft case. And it collected some documents, too."
After examining all the documents, Badiuzzman said, the ACC investigation did not find anyone's involvement in the "corruption conspiracy" in the bridge project and submitted its report to the Commission saying that it is the final report, and recommended not to make any charge-sheet.
The anti-graft body filed the case on December 17, 2012 against seven people for their alleged involvement in the Padma Bridge project graft dropping the names of key suspects former Communications Minister Syed Abul Hossain and former State Minister for Foreign Affairs Abul Hasan Chowdhury.
The accused in the Padma bridge graft case were former secretary of Bridge Division Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan (now member of the Privatisation Board), superintendent engineer (river control) of Bangladesh Bridge Authority Kazi M Ferdous, executing engineer (bridge construction and maintenance) of Roads and Highways Department M Riaz Ahmed Zaber, deputy managing director of Engineer and Planning Consultant Limited Mohammad Mustafa, former director (international project division) of SNC LavalinInc Mohammad Ismail, former vice president (international project division) of SNC Lavalin Ramesh Shah and former vice-president of SNC Lavalin Kevin Wallace.
A case about graft in the Padma project is still continuing in a Canadian court but ACC meanwhile has locked out the case in Bangladesh saying all accused have been found innocent and are cleared of any charge. "They are all clean persons," the ACC said.
This is how things often happen in this country, especially when it comes to crime and involves the powerful. The ACC's decision has shocked the people and put the government's image at further risk. Had the ACC not said in the intial stage of the case that they had some clues to wrongdoings in the Padma bridge project, people would likely believe their final assessment. But now they have lost people's confidence not only in the Padma graft case but regarding all other investigations in ACC's hands.
Instead of identifying and punishing those responsible for Bangladesh having lost the WB credit for the Padma bridge - at cheapest rate of interest - the ACC now held its gun at the World Bank saying it had not provided ACC with enough information to help the investigation. How strange it is!
Corruption is one big challenge to establishing good governance that we all including the government and civilians talk about in almost every breathe of us. The creation of the "independent" ACC brought new hopes that corruption will be controlled and the corrupt will be punished irrespective of their influence or political identity.
But what we see in reality does not match expectations. The ACC instead is protecting the corrupt and wrongdoers from law and creating a smokescreen that blurs vision of the common men. However, ACC cannot protect its own reputation by indulging in such "abuses," it is widely felt. We hope ACC would be able to read people's minds and correct itself in the best interest of the people and the nation. Everyone wants justice done in th fairest way and in quickest time. Independence and image of ACC depend on the bold and fair role role of the Commission.