For an inveterate optimist it may seem relieving to learn that there has been a slight change, albeit improvement, in the country's corruption curves. The latest Transparency International Bangladesh's (TIB) survey on some of the country's key service sectors reveals this 'amazing' piece of information. Deservedly, it featured the headlines on all national dailies.
Now getting to know what the TIB report terms as decline in corruption in 2012 compared to 2010 is a trifle baffling. From its household survey, the TIB concludes that except for health sector, corruption in all public and private sectors has come down by 28.4 per cent in the last couple of years, while ironically bribe rate during the period has doubled, reportedly on two counts -- the risks involved and inflation. Is this a decline in scale and growth in content, or the other way around?
It is better not to interpret the scenario simplistically. However, try as one may to understand the dynamics of the so-called declining trend, one must not be deluded into believing that this represents a picture worth seeking solace in. What the TIB survey says is that the corruption spread is relatively less extensive but far more intensive in character. It need not take one to be cynical to assume that corruption has lodged more deeply in areas where prospects of penetrating its claws are high. And indeed health sector is one such area where vulnerability is the most pervasive.
The findings of TIB survey Corruption in Service Sector: National Household Survey 2012 disseminated at a press conference at the CIRDAP auditorium in the capital recently do not, in effect, reflect such positives that deserve to be welcomed. The survey covered 13 service sectors conducted between May 2011 and April 2012, and households study from May 15 to July 04, 2012. The key findings took account of sector-wise services delivered, bribes handed out, number of households subjected to bribe-giving, number of households that did not subscribe to the services, comparative picture of corruption between the period under survey -- 2012 and 2010. The key findings, featured in most dailies as headlines, show that an estimated Tk 220 billion was exchanged in bribes during 2011-12 fiscal year, which is 13.6 per cent of the national budget and 2.4 per cent of the country's GDP (gross domestic product).
The TIB report, based on survey conducted on 7,554 randomly selected households, makes appalling revelations overshadowing any sense of complacency that may creep out of the comparative analysis. In public and private sectors, surveyed by the TIB in 2010, 84.2 per cent service seekers were victims of corruption as against 55.8 per cent in 2012. The rate in health sector jumped to 40.2 per cent in 2012 from 33.2 per cent two years ago. Bribe rate rose to Tk 6,100 from Tk 3,184 per household, according to the survey done between May 2011 and April 2012. Shockingly, harassment of the poor is more compared to the wealthier sections. The survey shows, 5.5 per cent of the poor fell victim to corruption as against 1.3 per cent of the rich people. Similar is the case with the rural population versus their urban counterparts. A total of 65.4 per cent people from the villages had to pay bribe as against 59.9 per cent of those residing in urban locations. The survey conducted on households covered 13 service categories --labour migration, law enforcement agencies, land administration, judiciary, health, education, local government, agriculture, power, tax, banking, insurance and non-government organisations. The survey found on average 77 per cent service seekers fell victim to bribery in labour migration, 75.8 per cent by law enforcers, 59 per cent in land administration, 57.1 per cent in judiciary, 40.2 per cent in health and 40.1 per cent in education. Given the state of things, a comparison to scoop up any improvement from where things stood two years back is in a way self-defeating. The truth remains that the average volume of bribe money involved in the service sectors more than doubled during the period under the survey. Another factor that must not be overlooked is that there was also a drastic reduction in the ratio of households subscribing to the services. The survey showed that only 9.2 per cent, 8.6 per cent and 16.6 per cent households under the survey sought services from the law-enforcing agencies, judiciary and land administration respectively, reflecting a very poor public confidence in those institutions. This indeed is a starker revelation exposing not only the potential service seekers outside the ambit of essential public service providers but more importantly their own choice to stay away to avoid harassments.
The picture is appalling. No comparison should suffice to establish any narrowing in the scope of corruption. The important fact to take note of is that what the TIB survey has revealed relates to the selected service sectors only and does not take into account the notorious scams involving the share market, Destiny and the Hall-Mark group referred to as instances of 'grand corruption'. The TIB has recommended for, among others, the strengthening of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). However, it remains to be said that unless 'immunity' to corruption at political level is done away with, stray efforts will only leave tiny blips that in reality will mean nothing.