Editorial on National Integrity Strategy

At the outset, we welcome the government’s initiative to formulate a National Integrity Strategy with the goal of curbing corruption and ensuring good governance in the country. However, despite talk of provisions to be incorporated in the strategy to deal with issues crucial in relation to transparency and accountability, we couldn’t entertain high hopes as to what shape it would take and how much of it would be implemented. In regard to some provisions as publication of wealth statements of public officials and rules and policies for their appointment, we can hardly be blamed for lack of confidence in the government coupled with not inconsiderable scepticism.

In the three and a half years of its tenure, the government has done little to effectively combat corruption, one of its major election pledges. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), which was formed after much struggle and pressure created by the civil society and media, has been crippled to the point of its chief himself declaring it to be ‘toothless’. When the report on the share market scandal was filed, not only was it not publicised or the recommendations considered, but its author has been subjected to all sorts of unmerited criticism.

Unless concrete measures are in place, the government’s move to combat corruption and malpractice through an integrity commission will remain an empty dream. For example, the publication of wealth statements of lawmakers, government officials and judges, a proposed mandatory provision of the strategy, must be effectively implemented and the wealth assessment tagged with tax return assessment in a continuing process of updating and public dissemination.

The appointment of an ombudsman, also an election pledge of the government, crucial for combating corruption and abuse of power remains an unfinished agenda. According to the strategy, a separate department to investigate corruption allegations is to be set up. We wonder if the ACC is allowed to act independently with the complement of its own investigating wing, any separate entity would be needed to investigate allegations of corruption.

However, our common experience has been that corruption charges and investigations into them have been directed against the opposition party members, unconcerned with the activities and allegations against those in power who have a free hand in committing corruption and abuse of power. The application of rules fairly to all, regardless of their political affiliation, is the guarantee for ensuring true transparency, accountability and good governance in a democratic system.

Published as Editorial by the Daily Star

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