Govt mulls ethical society to curb graft
Formulating National Integrity Strategy; PM to lead ADB-financed good governance project
Julfikar Ali Manik
The government is considering introducing a ‘national integrity strategy’ (NIS) in a bid to create an ethical society to back up its drives against rampant corruption.
The government aims at achieving the goal through ‘rebuilding integrity’ in every segment of the society including public, private and political sectors.
Though the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is responsible to prosecute the corrupt, policymakers of the present government believe it’s impossible to fight graft only by ACC through prosecution, say sources involved in formulation of NIS.
“So the government has taken initiatives to formulate NIS to combat corruption through moral-based approach to complement the ACC’s functions,” says a source.
Explaining the perspective of coming up with a new idea, another source argues: “Ineffective formal control and lack of social and citizen-oriented anti-corruption accountability mechanisms have added to what could be termed a crisis of integrity.”
“This calls for a longer-term change process with a strong reform regime that would sit at the core of the good governance agenda of the government,” the source adds.
“Given the holistic nature of a national integrity strategy, its full implementation would be long-term — more like a decade than months,” observes Barrister Manzoor Hasan, director of Institute of Governance Studies (IGS), Brac University, who is involved in formulation of NIS draft through consultation with cross-sections of people in the country.
The sources say the government is formulating NIS as part of the four-year project styled “Supporting the Good Governance Program” financed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
The ADB is providing the government with a loan of $150 million (Tk 1,050 crore) for this project, which is likely to be increased up to $170 million, sources say. They add the donor agency also suggests that the government formulate NIS.
A draft of NIS is expected to be prepared by mid-September, said Matiar Rahman, joint secretary (committee and development) of the Cabinet Division, who is working as the co-coordinator of the Good Governance Programme.
Rahman said the ultimate goal of NIS is to strengthen integrity at the individual, institution and national levels “because the values, ethics and morals have already been distorted which we need to rebuild in every level.”
“The NIS is mainly to prevent corruption in government institutions. Our ultimate vision is to free the country from corruption. Through implementation of the strategy, we want to prevent corruption in public sectors and ensure proper service to people through public institutions.”
“We have plans to work on integrity issue from family to national level. As a result of NIS, we want to get a country free from corruption and people will get proper services from public offices,” added Rahman.
In Asia, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines have such integrity strategies in different names. The Malaysian’s strategy is called ‘National Integrity Plan’, he said.
Different sources say India and Pakistan are also working to formulate such integrity strategies.
“We have examples that some countries have gained many achievements through implementation of such integrity policies,” said Barrister Manzoor Hasan.
“As integrity will increase in our society, the ordinary citizens have a greater sense of ownership. They will be able to express their views without fear. The quality of basic services — health and education — will improve,” he added.
The government has designated IGS to prepare the draft of the strategy and IGS submitted a National Framework on it to the Cabinet Division in June. The IGS on August 27 submitted another detailed document to the Cabinet Division as a process of finalising the draft.
Sources say initially it was proposed by IGS to set up a ‘national integrity institute’ by this month, which will be run under policy guidance of a high-powered National Integrity Advisory Committee (NIAC) headed by the prime minister or the chief adviser.
It was also proposed that the government would form a ‘national integrity council’ (NIC) to lead the implementation of the strategy and the government’s plan is to make NIC functional before the national elections proposed to be held in the third week of December.
But the government is not willing to set up a separate institute to implement NIS, the sources say. According to the policy guidance of NIAC, an NIS cell in the Cabinet Division headed by an additional or joint secretary will now facilitate implementation of the strategy through ministries, constitutional bodies and other institutions.
The NIS cell will facilitate formation of Ethics Committee and appointment of Ethics Focal Person in each ministry and other government institutes (those will be considered as participating agencies of NIS) headed by the secretaries of the ministries and head of the institutes.
The ethics committees will work to ensure integrity within the ministry and in other organisations or offices under the ministries in line with the national documents of NIS, which will set a minimum standard of integrity to be maintained.
Besides, these committees will make an action plan in line with NIS to implement the strategy in their offices, while Ethics Focal person will maintain liaison with NIS Cell in view of the progress of implementation.
“We cannot force people in private sectors to form such an ethics committee in their own arena, but we can request them to do so in the name of anything,” a source observes.
The sources say they are considering formation of NIAC drawing members from each participating agencies of the state institutions and non-state institutions.
The state institutions are parliament, the executive (cabinet ministers), judiciary, civil service, local government, public prosecution, Public Service Commission, ACC, the Election Commission, Ombudsmen and Comptroller and Auditor General.
Non-state institutions are family, civil society, NGOs, private sector, media and political parties.
“The state and non-state institutions are in the National Integrity System. We will decide representatives from different institutions later through discussions,” says a source.
The sources add there will be a provision that the head of the participating agencies of NIS will be members of NIAC.
“It will be an opportunity to bring all the heads of the important bodies to the same forum. Now they don’t have any scope to sit to decide anything together,” a source adds.
If this plan is implemented, NIAC led by the prime minister or the chief adviser will be formed comprising the Speaker, cabinet ministers, an elected representative from local government, attorney general, ACC and PSC chairmen, chief election commissioner, Ombudsman, Comptroller and Auditor General, and representatives from NGO, business sector, media, civil society and political parties and families.
No selection process has been chalked out yet to select a representative from family for NIAC, says a source.
A draft national framework of NIS suggests that the government consider the life-span of NIS, which could be four to 10 years, or can be extended by laws.
The sources go on to say the government already has mechanisms in the ministries and their field offices to handle grievances.
The mechanisms have been set up as part of the Good Governance Programme, which will be strengthened further when NIS comes into effect, the sources say, adding promulgation of the Right to Information Ordinance is also a part of the project which will be a key issue for implementing NIS.