Bangladesh the Second-most Corrupt Country
Bangladesh was for years described as the world's most corrupt country. Transparency International has now ranked it the second-most corrupt after Nigeria, in a study of 146 countries. Rina Goldenberg reports from Dhakar.
Done by Passau University in Germany, the study ranks Finland, New Zealand, Denmark and Iceland as the least corrupt. On a scale where 10 is lily-white, Germany improved from 7.7 to 8.2 points.
In Bangladesh, however, there's corruption at every street corner. To get through the capital Dhaka as a bus or rickshaw driver, you pay the policeman. You run a shop – you pay the tax official. You need medicine – you bribe the doctor. You want a lower electricity bill, you invest in the man who comes to read your meter.
For three years in a row, Bangladesh headed the corruption table of Transparency International. The government doesn't try to window dress that – at least Reaz Rahman, a top diplomat in the foreign ministry, doesn't:
Unemployment rates of 70 per cent
"Of course, there is corruption," Rahman admits freely. "First of all because there is an upper limit to how much state officials are allowed to earn, and this limit is utterly unrealistic. It is below even of the costs of living. Secondly, the rate of unemployment is up at 70 per cent. There are roughly 30 million teenagers for who we are unable to offer jobs."
"And thirdly," Rahman goes on to say, "in our political system you have to invest about 500,000 euros in order to become a member of parliament. Consequently, you spend the rest of your days in office paying off the dept."
Transparency International estimates that Bangladesh loses about six percent of the Gross National Product to corruption, in a nation that ranks among the world's poorest countries.
Khan Sarwar Murshid of Transparency International in Bangladesh: "This is a poor, poor country. And when you consider that a major part of the money is wasted by corruption, then this must be considered a crime against humanity. For the tax payer there is no opportunity of developing or getting ahead."
Corruption virulent in the police force
The most massive corruption happens in the police. Almost anyone who has any dealings with state power is asked to pay up.
It costs about 250 euros to have someone arrested – even without reason. The innocently arrested person has to come up with the same amount to buy their freedom.
Politics is a big corruption factor – politicians condone and practise it. Opposition leader Sheikh Hasina alleges that even the top people in government are raking it in.
"The Prime Minister and her son are completely caught up in it," says Hasina. "Corruption has become their ideology. They believe they can buy everything, votes for instance. They are deeply caught up."
However, the "most corrupt" seal went to Bangladesh for the first time in 2001, when Sheikh Hasina was prime minister herself. And since then, says Transparency International, corruption has got worse.
Among other things, the organisation follows up the many media reports about corruption cases. That's risky reporting in a country where journalists are regularly threatened, bashed up or even killed.
People need courage to fight corruption
Says Khan Sarwar Murshid of Transparency International: "What you need is courage in the first place, because you really have a lot to lose. Often your opponent is stronger than you are, he has more money, he has the best lawyer, and he probably even has crooks and criminals working for him. All of this is quite possible."
Ultimately, says Murshid, the only way out is more rule of law and more deterrents. Corruption must no longer pay, he says, and he demands severe punishment.
"The more spectacular the corruption case and the more top-class the criminal is, the more drastic the punishment must be. You have to teach those people to fear the law."
For the moment being, it seems that Bangladesh is a long ways from an effective rule of law. And it seems doubtful whether it will be able to reform its political system and the social structures without the aid of the international community. The seeds of corruption are too deeply ingrained in the country's political and social structures.
© DEUTSCHE WELLE/DW-WORLD.DE 2004