My father stood first in the BCS examination of 1929. He started his career as a secretary of government. The furniture he had in his house at the time of his retirement might have some antique value, but is simpler and less expensive than a peon would have today. The department he was in charge of supervised all the khas land in Dhaka. He could have owned a lot of land if he wanted to. But he didn’t. After lot of requests he finally applied for the smallest plot in Dhanmondi. We now have our only house on that plot; we have lost our village home to the Padma. My father’s only concerns were to educate his children and to fulfill his duties at the office. Not only him, but most of the educated professionals of that time used to think similarly.
But those days are gone. This is the age of consumerism. Now we need new clothes on every Eid. We’re not content if we can’t eat at restaurants every few days. We must hold 10 ceremonies for one wedding. We waste money organizing these ceremonies at luxurious community centers as if its nothing. Everyone has insatiable greed and desire. And it is this tendency that has pushed us towards the widespread corruption of today.
I grew up seeing rows of books in the shelves in my mother’s room. When I was in grade four, one of my writings was published in a magazine. As a reward my father bought me a Gitanjoli with one taka. That was the first truly happy day of my life. I still have that Gitanjoli. But these days no father would able to satisfy his son with a Gitanjoli. He would have to treat him to pizza, ice cream or Chinese food. We saw chandeliers at the Victoria Memorial but never thought of having one in our house. But today there are many houses in Dhaka which have chandeliers worth 1 million taka. The rich are very keen on displaying their wealth these days.
The first thing we need to reduce corruption is to change this consumerist attitude; and this change must start from the family. An attitude of patience and gratitude need to be developed- to be grateful and thankful to Allah for what we’ve already got and to have patience in striving for more. Unfortunately, the tendency to instill these values does not exist in our families today.
According to the World Bank, corruption is the use of public property for private gain. But this is a partial definition of corruption. In 1996, we carried out the first national survey on corruption. In this survey the common people defined corruption as not carrying out one’s responsibility properly. This definition of corruption reminds me of an incident from Hazrat Omar’s time. Hazrat Omar (ra) appointed Abu Horaira (ra) as the Governor of Bahrain. Within a few days Abu Horaira gained a lot of wealth through trade and business. Hazrat Omar then summoned him and asked him to explain why he was paying more attention to business than ruling the state. Hazrat Omar’s logic was that a government servant is there to serve the public 24 hours and not just during his office hours. Violating this principle is unethical. For this, all the property of Abu Horaira was seized.
We see so many things about government jobs in newspapers today. Apparently, one needs to pay 50,000 to 2 lakh taka bribe to get a teaching post in a primary school. Naturally, after getting the job, the teacher tries to get back the money through different means. Corruption takes place in the form of taking away money from student scholarship or Food for Education program fund, selling textbooks in shops instead of distributing them among the students, compelling students to take private lessons etc.
Taking bribes and evading taxes are not the only forms of corruption. When he was a professor at Dhaka Medical College, Dr. Ibrahim, the founder of BIRDEM used to spend the whole day taking classes and attending to patients. This scene is rare these days. The doctors are busy with their private practices from afternoon till midnight. There are doctors who examine 4-5 patients at the same time. Isn’t this negligence corruption? Adulterating food, design faults that result in buildings collapsing, encroaching onto government land – isn’t all this corruption?
To stop corruption, suitable punishments need to be in place. For example, in Singapore, if someone is found to be corrupt he has to face the law immediately and there are even instances of capital punishment for this reason. The most important thing is, in order to stop corruption we have to start with ourselves. We must be accountable to ourselves. We have to believe that there is someone we are accountable to for everything we do and he can’t be deceived. After joining the anti corruption movement I had to face different kinds of harassment. My tax returns for the last 20 years have been examined. But I am not at all uncomfortable. I can give every detail of the money that I have earned from the beginning to the end of my career.
There are 112 chapters of Transparency International worldwide. Bangladesh is called the Starship of the Movement because we have done some significant work on corruption. While in other countries they are working on national corruption, here we are working on corruption at the grassroots level. We are not only calculating the amount of corruption but also giving suggestions for it’s prevention.
I have to face a lot of criticism from the government, business and capitalist communities for my work. But I have got an immense amount of love and respect from the common people. At least now there is an awareness in the government and other related authorities which was absent before. I am hopeful that the situation will improve. Because even in this day and age, honest people outnumber the corrupt.