Anti-corruption agencies are not new. The first started appearing in the 1950s, and in Asia Pacific alone more than 42 were started between 1952 and 2016. Their success depends on a large number of factors. Transparency International recently reviewed six agencies in Asia Pacific and presented the findings at a conference in Bangkok in October 2017.
In the second of two articles, Transparency International sat down with Iqbal Mahmood, chairman of the Bangladesh Anti-Corruption Commission to discuss the importance and role of anti-corruption agencies.
Transparency International: What do you see as the most important role of an ACA?
Iqbal Mahmood (IM): The most important role is to earn the trust of the public. The major challenge that I see in my country is that the people don’t have trust in the anti-corruption commission so we have to reach out to the public. We tell them about the menace of corrupt practices in the government services delivery system and what we’re doing to tackle these practices. By doing so we earn the trust of the people so that they believe that we can curb corruption.
TI: What are your biggest challenges?
IM: Aside from earning the public’s trust in general, the biggest challenge is to catch the big fishes, those who are very powerful. That is a challenge because we’re not an island. We work in a country, a system, a society, a culture. We are among very powerful and influential people and it is a real challenge to go after the corrupt ones. We’re not always able to go for them so that is why the public don’t have full confidence and trust in us. But we do try to build trust by going for the big plunderers of public money.
TI: How much political interference do you get?
IM: There is so far no political interference on the Bangladesh Anti-Corruption Commission, but to tell you differently you do feel a pressure, a self-inflicted pressure. This is not a one-time game. You have to sustain operations. Once you go after a powerful politician, you can’t go back so there’s great pressure when deciding whether to prosecute politicians. It’s a challenge for an ACA to rise up to the level where you don’t feel such pressure.
TI: Do you think ACAs are an effective way of fighting corruption?
IM: Corruption has got to such a scale and people are suffering so you need a special agency to fight back. ACAs are important institutions all over the world and without them the corrupt people perhaps think that there’s no one to check their corruption. That’s why it’s important to have these institutions because they send out the message: “Look, there’s an institution to bring the corrupt to justice, so be careful.”
TI: What is the role of civil society organisations like Transparency International in supporting ACAs?
IM: Everybody is against ACAs, and civil society organisations like Transparency International are important because they are really supporting anti-corruption drives. When we feel pressure we reach out to these organisations and they come to rescue us. They can say what we cannot because these social organisations are very free. Also, they’re transparent, vocal and they have public trust so they are really valuable partners for ACAs.
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