New Civil Society Report on Bangladesh: Legal framework in place, but poor implementation of UNCAC provisions exacerbates corruption

5 October 2023 –

A recent report authored by Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) finds that the country has largely implemented the provisions of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) on a legal and institutional level, but requires more effort in terms of practical enforcement. The report focuses on provisions under Chapter II (Preventive measures) and Chapter V (Asset Recovery) of the UNCAC, discussing Bangladesh’s strengths and weaknesses in UNCAC implementation, and concludes with key recommendations to the government for tackling corruption more effectively in Bangladesh. The report is intended as a contribution to the UNCAC implementation review process in its second cycle, with technical support from the UNCAC Coalition.

Click on the report to download it in English!

On Chapter II articles of the UNCAC related to Preventive measures, a number of laws, rules and regulations have been enacted to form a comprehensive anti-corruption framework in Bangladesh. The Anti-Corruption Commission Act, Anti-corruption Rules, Right to Information Act, Money Laundering Prevention Act and National Integrity Strategy (NIS) were adopted in order to prevent and fight against corruption, enhance transparency and establish accountability. Measures were also taken to establish a detailed institutional framework. Despite these initiatives, effective implementation is absent, and corruption is still regarded as a major challenge to Bangladesh’s development trajectory.

On Chapter V articles of the UNCAC related to Asset Recovery, the legal framework including the the Money Laundering Prevention Act clearly provides that the laundered money is subject to confiscation by the state and the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit is authorized to lead and coordinate the process.  There are concerns regarding the growing illicit flight of money. Initiatives to bring back the laundered money have allegedly made little progress.

The official UNCAC review process in Bangladesh is ongoing. The governmental experts list is the only document available on Bangladesh’s UNODC country profile page. At the time of writing this report, the UNCAC review team of Bangladesh government was working on the Self-Assessment Checklist. The UNCAC review team of the government, coordinated by the Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs worked on the Self-Assessment Checklist with contributions from at least two dozen relevant government ministries and state institutions. A few civil society organizations were invited to a meeting held on 13 June 2023 to comment on a draft checklist presented at the meeting. Only Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) participated and made some comments on the spot. Pursuant to a decision at the meeting, TIB provided more detailed written comments on the full draft on 28 June, 2023.

The full civil society parallel report can be found here.

Main findings

Below are several of the key findings from the report, grouped according to topic:

Preventive Anti-Corruption Policies and Practices

Bangladesh enacted the Anti-Corruption Commission Act in 2004. After acceding to the UNCAC in 2007, the country adopted the Anti-Corruption Rules in 2007 to strengthen the legal framework. It also took a few other initiatives and strategies to strengthen the fight against corruption, including the adoption of the National Integrity Strategy (NIS) in 2012, the Right to Information Act in 2009, the Public Interest Information Disclosure (Provide Protection) Act in 2011, Public Procurement Rules in 2008, as well as the amended and upgraded Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2012, among others. However, implementation and enforcement of these initiatives and strategies remain weak.

Anti-Corruption Bodies

As provided by the anti-corruption law, Bangladesh established an Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). It is working as a specialized institution within the national integrity system with an aim to control and prevent corruption. Its legal framework and institutional arrangements are considered conducive to the fight against corruption at the national and local levels. Still, there are legal impediments such as the provision requiring prior permission of the government before arresting public officials for allegations of corruption, a restriction imposed through amendment of the 2012 Anti-money Laundering Act on the jurisdiction of the ACC, as well as a provision in the 2023 Income tax Act by which ACC’s authority to obtain income and asset data needed for investigation has been curtailed. ACC has also been subjected to growing bureaucratic influence.

Public Sector Employment

In order to build an efficient civil service sector and to create talented, competent and committed civil servants, Bangladesh took initiatives to build a legal and institutional framework including the adoption of Civil Service Recruitment Rules in 1981. There are also sets of rules based on the Government Servants (Conduct) Rules of 1979. Recent initiatives, such as the enactment of the Civil Service Act in 2018 and the implementation of the National Integrity Strategy are also intended to improve the quality of governance. However, there are allegations of irregularities in the recruitment process. Furthermore, the provision of ensuring prior permission of the government to arrest civil servants is believed to have a negative impact on the capacity of the ACC to combat corruption. Other requirements like the disclosure of assets of public officials are not duly practiced.

Political Financing

The Representation of the People Order (RPO) – the law which regulates the election of 300 members to the National Parliament – and the Conduct of Election Rules were promulgated in 1972. Through a subsequent revision, a dedicated chapter on election expense was incorporated, which concerns election-related income and the expenditure of candidates and political parties. In 1991 and 2001, the chapter was further revised to ensure more transparency and accountability. Through another revision in 2008, reporting on non-election party funding was made mandatory. The RPO limits election expenditure, but by law spending by the chief of the party is not limited, and is not required to feature in the party’s expenditure report. The provisions of RPO are alleged to be widely violated.

Reporting Mechanisms and Whistleblower Protection

Bangladesh enacted the Public Interest Information Disclosure (Provide Protection) Act in 2011 to safeguard whistleblowers. However, even a decade after it was passed, this law is not yet well known to people, nor have there been any notable initiatives to implement the law. Even though Bangladesh is one of the few countries that has a specific law in place, in practice, the law is ineffective.

Public Procurement

In 2006 a robust Public Procurement Act was enacted that was followed by the adoption of comprehensive Public Procurement Rules in 2008. The government subsequently introduced an electronic government procurement (E-GP) system. Nevertheless, the alleged nexus among a section of officials within the procuring entity and contractors is hindering transparency and accountability in the procurement process.

Management of Public Finances

The Ministry of Finance (MoF) is the foremost body which looks after the overall management of public finances including annual budget preparation, fiscal management, public debt management, taxation and economic policy formulation. It also oversees the operations of financial institutions, and the planning and implementation of financial plans. Its work is complemented by that of the Ministry of Planning, the Central Procurement Technical Unit (CPTU), the Office of the Comptroller General of Accounts (OCGA) and the Financial Reporting Council (FRC). Despite the decentralization of services, the public finance framework in Bangladesh has been criticized for delays in producing in-year reports; for not publicly sharing the end of year budget report, and for lacking proper documentation on feedback from public consultations held.

Access to Information & Civil Society Participation

The Right to Information Act, widely known as the RTI Act, was enacted in 2009 to ensure the legal right to information of all the citizens of the country. Following the RTI Act, the Information Commission was established. Public offices appointed Designated Officers (DOs) for providing required information. They are also using modern technologies to disclose information proactively. The websites of the government offices seem to be well organized with ample information.

In terms of civil society participation, there are concerns over the freedom to express opinions, the ability to operate freely and participate in democratic processes. Bureaucratic obstacles allegedly also hinder CSOs’ ability to access foreign funding, with lengthy and cumbersome approvals procedures. Civil society’s work is particularly admired for promoting women empowerment and financial inclusion through micro-credits and governance reforms. However, civic space in Bangladesh was categorized as ‘repressed’ by the most recent CIVICUS Monitor.

Judiciary and Prosecution Services

Article 22 of the Constitution guarantees the independence of the judiciary from the executive branch of the state. Furthermore, article 94 (4) of the Constitution also ensures the independence of the Chief Justice and other judges of the Supreme Court in the exercise of their judicial functions. Yet it was not until 2007 that the formal separation of the judiciary took place. In spite of this formal separation, political and executive influence allegedly continues to limit the level of judicial independence.

Anti-Money Laundering

Bangladesh enacted the Money Laundering Prevention Act (MLA) in 2002, which was subsequently amended in 2012. After a further amendment in 2015 and adoption of the Money Laundering Prevention Rules in 2019, a potentially effective legal framework was created. The Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU), with its membership in the Egmont Group, has access to a wide range of opportunities for international cooperation. Nevertheless, the level of implementation of these acts and rules is not regarded as encouraging, as illicit financial flows have been increasing in recent years.

International Cooperation

Through the aforementioned MLA, Bangladesh’s legal framework caters to efficient international cooperation proceedings. Beyond its membership in the Egmont Group, Bangladesh has also joined the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering, World Customs Organization, Regional Intelligence Liaison Offices (RILO), and INTERPOL to exchange intelligence information regarding financial accounts, customs and security matters. However, there is very little achievement in terms of asset recovery.

Key recommendations

Bangladesh has progressed well in terms of creating the legal and institutional framework needed to implement pledges made under Chapters II and V of the UNCAC. However, it has a long way to go in terms of implementation. The following measures can be considered as priority actions to facilitate better implementation:

  1. Ensure the independence and higher professional capacity of the ACC and free it from political and bureaucratic influence;
  2. Remove all predicaments created by various legal and policy amendments to compromise the jurisdiction, scope and operational flexibility of ACC;
  3. Amend the 2017 version of the Anti-Money Laundering Act and Rules to enhance the Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC) jurisdiction through inclusion of all items of the schedule of offences as provided in the 2012 version;
  4. Make appointments of Supreme Court Judges by an independent body (e.g., a Supreme Judicial Council). Complete the process of full separation of the judiciary free from executive and political influence. Ensure strict compliance with codes of conduct by all judicial officers including mandatory and periodically updatable disclosure of income and assets;
  5. Create a Public Prosecutor Cadre Service;
  6. Remove all existing legal and policy provisions and refrain from introducing any laws or policies that restrict the space for civil society and media to facilitate their active participation in anti-corruption reporting and other initiatives;
  7. Ensure the disclosure of the wealth of public officials: annually updated wealth statement should be made mandatory and enforced. Establish an effective oversight and monitoring mechanism to ensure compliance and take effective actions in case of accumulation of income and wealth disproportionate with legitimate income source;
  8. Ensure depoliticization of all institutions promoting democracy and accountability;
  9. Strengthen legal and institutional capacity to ensure integrity in public procurement at all levels by elimination of political and bureaucratic influence and syndication. Ensure universal application of the e-GP system for all categories volumes of procurement;
  10. Set up the Offices of Ombudsman at national and sectoral levels;
  11. Produce and publish in-year report, mid-year review, and year-end financial budget reports in a timely manner; enhance the comprehensiveness of the year-end reports and ensure public access to them;
  12. Build capacity of all institutions to ensure proactive and on-demand disclosure of information and drive civic activism to enhance public interest and participation in the movement for access to information;
  13. Ensure that the recruitment process of civil servants is free and fair and that public institutions including the bureaucracy and law-enforcement agencies are de-politicized;
  14. Arrange awareness-raising campaigns for implementation of the whistleblower protection act;
  15. Create the space for higher level of independence and effectiveness of the OCAG, and take concrete actions to ensure accountability based on the findings of the OCAG reports.
  16. Enhance transparency and accountability in financial management; and abolish the provision of ‘whitening’ black money;
  17. Upscale the level of professional skills and effectiveness of institutions and agencies mandated to prevent and control illicit financial transfers. Increase greater cooperation and coordination between them with particular emphasis on repatriation of stolen assets taking advantage of opportunities for international cooperation including mutual legal assistance.

More detailed recommendations are provided in Chapter VI of the report.

Fullscreen Mode