Bangladesh is a champion of corruption and we, the Bangladeshis, religiously curse corruption at every point of our lives. When we are young, we promise ourselves that we will never engage in this heinous activity. We teach our kids that corruption is a bad thing to do and how it is being a blockade for our country’s progress. Do we realize that corruption is just like a web and we are just one of the knots that is keeping the web integrated?
A few months ago, I had to visit a government office for a particular document to make a machine readable passport. My parents advised me to slip a couple of hundred taka notes to the government employee and get the document. I complied because my plan was to get the document in hand and ask the employee whether he gets paid by the government or not when he asks for money. My parents thought it to be a very bad idea and my dad decided to go fetch the document instead.
Maybe the government employee receives a meager salary which might not be enough to run a family. As he gets accustomed to the “extra income”, his desires increase too. Sometimes we slip those hundred taka notes out of pity and because we are so rich the amount does not hurt our wallet. Most of the time, we are forced to slip the notes because we want to get things done without delay. Even if we earn the money after such toil and pay taxes to the government, we have to let go a big portion of our hard earned money paying bribes at different places. If we just randomly pick a sector, say law enforcement sector, we will find 79.6% of the household faced corruption when they sought any kind of help from the law enforcement agencies. Each household had to pay an average amount of 3,352 taka to get things done in this sector (Nawaz 2012). We feel proud of ourselves that we are not receiving bribe. However, we are bribing others and that keeps the corruption cycle going.
Now the question is how to untwine the web. In an article entitled “Anti-corruption Mechanisms in Bangladesh,” Advocate M. Shamsul Haque mentions, “…corruption in Bangladesh is considered a way of life that cannot be avoided or eradicated” (Haque). Are we going to get used to this way of life? For example, to avoid bribing, one might suggest complaining to the higher authority. It is quite confirmed we will find the higher authority corrupted to a greater level than their juniors. How can we expect them to take action against their juniors when they themselves are found guilty for the same crime? This even encourages the lower level employees to claim for bribes because they know nobody going to charge them for the crime. On top of that, their seniors might be claiming commissions from them as a price of letting them receiving bribes. As a result, corruption prevails and our life becomes so much intertwined in it that gradually we stop noticing it. Even a teacher who is supposed to teach his or her students that corruption is a bad thing has to pay a bribe to get a job in a government school. A report of Transparency International, Bangladesh mentions that to get a job as a teacher in a registered primary school, bribe is taken in the form of donation. Not only this, but also they are coerced to pay 1000-1500 taka in the name of different subscriptions when they go through a training program for “skill development” (“Administration and Management of Primary Education: Problems and the Way Out”, 5).
As a remedy to corruption, Advocate Haque suggests to make a “corruption-free” family. Parents might try to do that by encouraging their children for career option that includes less scopes of corruption, options like—doctor or engineer. Even if all of them don’t turn out to be doctors or engineers, many pursue private sectors where they think they can extricate themselves from corruption. Nowadays, parents encourage the least to go for government job because they might have to pay a huge amount of bribes to get the job. Secondly, the salary is very low and they do not want their kids to get involved in corruption to supplement their income. At the end of the day, they somehow get involved in corruption when they have to pay those extra amounts to get their passport, driving license, or at least to get rid of the traffic sergeant blocking their way for no good reason. This takes us to the state of nature described by Thomas Hobbes where human by nature is selfish (Wolff 12). People pay bribes without a big fuss because their self-interest lies there. They want to get their work done without any delay and do not mind paying for it when it is needed.
Advocate Haque also suggests exercise of religious values which I think has least to do anything with corruption. Even if we avoid corruption in fear of god, we submit to it at different levels to please our gods, such as—in the process of going for hajj or getting permission to set up a puja pandal during Durga Puja. Advocate Haque has said, corruption has become a way of life, we think it does not contradict with our religion when we are bribing people and praying to our gods simultaneously.
So, what is the solution? What would have happened if I had collected that document and refused to bribe that government employee? It would not have made any difference in the whole corruption system, but it would bring some change if a large number of people do the same at once. When a group of people refuse to bribe, it sets an example that there is an option to be bold and say no to bribery. Gradually, it will ripple all over the society and make more people realize that they have the collective power to come out of the corruption web. When everyone altogether refuses to pay bribe to anyone, corruption has to stop right there. To be candid, this sounds dreamy when every individual is driven by their self-interest. The conflict here is between individual rationality and collective rationality. Collective rationality is considered the best way when everyone becomes a part of it. According to an example by Jean-Paul Sartre, individual rationality said cutting down trees would increase productivity, but that would destroy the land. Collective rationality is to avoid cutting trees altogether. Same applies in terms of states. Individual rationality lets us pay the bribe and get our work done, but when everyone does the same, it brings destruction to the state. To make collective rationality successful, effort needs to come from the agency. Therefore, to achieve a society free of corruption, everyone needs to let go their individual rationality and become a part of the collective rationality. Is it something very feasible to think of? I hate to be pessimistic.
“Administration and Management of Primary Education: Problems and the Way Out.” Transparency International Bangladesh. Transparency International Bangladesh, n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2014. <http://www.ti-bangladesh.org/beta3/images/max_file/rp_es_PrimEducation_En.pdf>.
Haque, M. Shamsul. “Anti-corruption Mechanisms in Bangladesh.” - Asian Human Rights Commission. Asian Human Rights Commission, n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2014. <http://www.humanrights.asia/resources/journals-magazines/article2/0901/08anti-corruption-mechanisms-in-bangladesh>.
Nawaz, Farzana. “U4 Expert Answer.” U4: Anti-Corruption Resource Center. Ed. Gareth Sweeney. CHR. Michelsen Institute, 12 Feb. 2012. Web. 29 Sept. 2014. <http%3A%2F%2Fwww.u4.no%2Fpublications%2Foverview-of-corruption-within-the-justice-sector-and-law-enforcement-agencies-in-bangladesh%2Fdownloadasset%2F2800>.