Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Repentence of a Sinner

Oh Lord, forgive me for I have sinned! What is worse, I do not think I’ll stop sinning in the near future. I am sure to be sent to purgatory for a long time to come while I look down (or is it up?) at my country burning in the hell of poverty.

No, I’ve not coveted my neighbour’s wife. Neither have I lied. Nor have I killed, though Gluttony and Sloth might be two of the other sins against my name! I have committed the ultimate sin against my country, against my own conscience – I have bribed!

Okay, I hear the collective sigh of relief from my wife and the rest of my family. We see corruption so prevalent around us that we have desensitized ourselves against it. Mind you, it is, I think, still an awful crime, as heinous as murder or rape. It is the collective rape of the country’s resources and the murder of her future! And every day, every one of us stands silently by as another part of our being dies.

Well, the question does arise: Why am I being so self-righteous now? Why did I bribe to start with? Can you believe that the first time I did bribe was to give the government my own money? In the mid 1990s, when I came back after my education with the twinkle of a reformer in my eyes. When I came back with the belief in ideals that one learns in college. I think my parents were so relieved that I did not stay back in some foreign land that they bought me a car! And I soon learnt that to ensure that I had the opportunity to impress the ladies with my mean drive I had to pay road tax and fitness. And, as evident, if proper people in the relevant authority were not paid “speed money” all I could do with my soft top was to sit with the stereos blazing like the sun above in our driveway.

And since then I’ve done this many times over. To get phone lines. To pay electricity bills. To pay income tax (oh no, I’m getting raided tomorrow!). To get tickets on an airline flight. To have my road swept. To ensure that the VAT authorities did not ask why I was paying so much of it. (For sure, a raid tomorrow!) I have the resolve of a heroin addict now! I want to give up but I don’t know how!

Prof. Yunus of Grameen Bank in a recent newspaper article enthused about what he would do given the chance of being chairman of the Anti Corruption Commission. Well, good professor, isn’t what Abe Lincoln said once hold true in Bangladesh? Is not the basis of democracy embodied in the tenet that a government is of the people, by the people and for the people? Well, we can wait and say that the government and the opposition will get their acts together and solve this epidemic that is plaguing us. But what do we do when our doctor doesn’t cure us? Do we wait till the last breath hoping for a miracle cure? Surely, it is our choice. We can wait. Or we can act. Let us invoke our powers as citizens of this great country to have our own Anti Corruption Commission. Your dream has come true, Professor Yunus. You are now the chairman of the citizen’s ACC.

So how does this citizen’s ACC (CACC) operate? Well, basically as the name suggests, common citizens form the CACC. Amongst us there are Bangladeshis who are above the party politicking that plagues us. In the past these “model” citizens have come together to form caretaker governments, they fuel many of the intelligentsia, run many of the successful NGOs. In cahoots with the media the CACC can form a powerful opinion forming body in the country.

The CACC will operate like an NGO whose main goal is to provide transparency to the operation of the government, quite like election monitors who oversee the smooth functioning of any elections. The CACC’s task is to bring to the notice of everyone that any issue that they cover is above board and corruption free. It is almost like having a quality assurance stamp. The government should welcome this body as they claim that they are honest and say it is priority number one to improve our nation’s image before foreign investors.

Let us form committees (yes, decisions do get made in those sometimes). Let us divide up the work. Past, Future and Present as it was so nicely put. Let us have our own cells to hear grievances from ordinary citizens who have to pay up or not have any other alternative. Let us have counselling desks that guide us through what to do when we are faced with such dilemma. Let us have investigative cells that probe large deals. Let us join hands with the fifth estate to report the crime. Let us for our own sake act!

Prof. Yunus, you have shown us the way to break out of poverty with your micro credit programme. But is it not time to address the nation’s macro poverty elevation scheme and rid us of the obstacles of corruption? The nation needs people like to you come front and centre and take charge.

We need people who have the courage to say enough is enough, and who have the personal credibility to see this through. I promise you that the nation will be ever grateful and millions of us will be lining up to be the foot soldiers in this war against bribery. I for one, General Yunus, am reporting for duty.