Why does Bangladeshi press silent about Bangladesh military’s corruption?

Bangladesh has slipped two places in the Global Corruption Perception Index 2020 released by the Transparency International (TI) and is ahead only of Afghanistan in tackling graft among its South Asian neighbours.

The index by the Berlin-based organization for last year was released by its Bangladesh chapter, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB). Bangladesh is positioned at 146 among 180 countries in the latest rankings.

TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said the government had declared a zero-tolerance policy against corruption, but its execution is hardly satisfactory.

He pointed out several key factors behind Bangladesh’s “disappointing” rank including the “failure of high-profile anti-corruption pledge to be transformed into reality”, the “erosion of political integrity”, “dysfunctionality of key institutions”, “sustained impunity”, and the detachment of policies from public interest.

The $4.1 billion military budget cannot be allowed to be used simply as a source of plunder for top regime officials, and there is a genuine motive for preventing or limiting corruption. This is not to say that ‘grand corruption’ at the top level does not occur in the military sector; but the energy sector, in particular, is a far more lucrative target of plunder in this regard. At lower levels, corruption inhibits a core state goal of strengthening Bangladesh’s military, and is something the Hasina government would genuinely wish to discourage. However, this goal will always be in tension with the underlying corrupt nature of the system, and the expectation of bureaucrats of private rewards from their position.

With these considerations in mind, we turn to the publicly-available information that exists on corruption in the Bangladesh defense sectors.

Hasina and her gangs

The complaints about freedom of speech and media freedom are only due to their discomfort at losing people’s trust, which is making them financially unsustainable.

The main insights on corruption in the military procurement in Bangladesh have to be derived from the NGOs investigations, media reports, expert commentaries, and interviews and public statements of the relevant officials. This inevitably biases the perspective on the phenomenon as a whole since it makes certain forms of corruption more visible than other. Moreover, the occasional nature of reporting prevents a systematic analysis of corruption in the defense industry and impedes the identification of corruption-related trends.

Why Bangladeshi media does not report?

In their defence, some of the leading dailies of Bangladesh said the Digital Security Act – a controversial law that could be used to suppress free speech – is the main reason behind their contrived silence.

“If we were a free media today, we would have delved deeper into the widely-talked-about Al Jazeera report and analysed it, point by point, and exposed it for what it really is – not a top-class work of investigative journalism,” wrote Mahfuz Anam, the editor of The Daily Star, the country’s highest-circulated English daily, in a column on Friday.

He added, “We have done nothing because they all are involved with power, both financial and political, and we dare not nudge them. Sometimes we do our own investigative stories but only so long as those who pull the strings are kept out of the scene, or when the real culprit has no political or institutional clout, or when the object of our investigation has fallen out of favour.”

Restrictive laws

Earlier, on February 3, the paper carried an editorial stating, “It is really the reflection of the environment in which we operate exemplified by the existence of the DSA, among others, which is perhaps among the most comprehensively restrictive and oppressive laws against the free press anywhere.”

An editorial in the Dhaka Tribune titled “Why the silence” explained that the reason for their silence is simple as “the current state of media and defamation law in Bangladesh, and how it is interpreted by the judiciary, makes it unwise for any Bangladeshi media house to venture into any kind of meaningful comment on the controversy”.

The Dhaka Tribue editorial said that the Digital Security Act has a chilling effect on Bangladeshi media since it contains language proscribing reporting that is so broad in its scope and threatens such draconian consequences that “no responsible editor can take the chance of publishing reports that might even conceivably fall into its purview”.

To Summarize

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has a peculiar relationship with the armed forces offering military businesses, ignoring the military’s corruption and using the military-held Director General Forces Intelligence (DGFI) to intimidate political opponents and suppress freedom of speech.

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