Syed Ashfaqul Haque, Chief News Editor, back from China
Bangladesh can learn a lot from China about tackling corruption and the role a clean government can play in executing a billion dollar-plus project like the Padma bridge.
China, poised to become the world’s largest economy, gives most of the credit for its amazing run of over 11.5 percent economic growth for a decade to its policy of zero tolerance for corruption.
The brains behind the Chinese government, the Communist Party of China, is open to sharing its experiences with neighbouring countries, most of which are graft-sick.
Ironically, though, when top policymakers and government officials were briefing The Daily Star last week along with other media from six countries in South East Asia about China’s success story, the World Bank backed out of the Padma bridge project, citing the government’s much-publicised foot-dragging over its corruption concerns.
The main financier of the project, the WB first brought corruption allegations against a minister about a year back and subsequently put forward evidence that came out in an investigation by Canadian police. But all those concerns came in for a big thrashing by a government in denial mode.
Away from Bangladesh, in the province of Guangdong, China is demonstrating unique efforts to combat corruption and build a clean government.
Since China initiated reforms and an opening-up-to-world policy some 34 years ago, Guangdong was soon in the forefront of its socialist market economy because of the province’s strategic location of being separated by the Pearl River from Macao and Hong Kong.
However, it needed to develop huge infrastructural facilities to woo private investors from China and abroad, from Hong Kong in particular. It began to build infrastructure and make clear to all its role of being a business facilitator, in its policy regarding investment and roadmap for development. And investment started to roll in, at an astonishing rate.
But China found a new enemy too in the liberal economic front. Corruption won over many comrades. Plenty of constructions paved the way for plentiful bribes for government officials and party members.
The task of containing corruption was not so easy for China, which faces the adversities of being ruled by one party and safeguarded by none since its birth in 1949.
The Communist Party of China (CPC) and its government knew about its strengths as well as its weaknesses. In the Chinese governance system, the CPC decides what to do and the government executes those decisions.
Unlike Bangladesh or many other countries in Asia, the first thing China did was to tell people about the menacing problem it was faced with, and vowed to contain it at any cost. So the war on corruption in infrastructure projects began in 1993.
The CPC drew up an elaborate battle plan, through which it got its 80 crore party members in a 140-crore population aware of the graft menace. Corruption watchdogs and discipline inspection commissions, of trusted party members, went in force to all offices for overseeing tenders, finance and work. The work of party members is also being monitored through multi-layered checks.
Guangdong, which experienced the first reforms and housed the first foreign enterprise in China, also became the first to accommodate the anti-corruption initiatives of the CPC.
No graft allegations were deemed absurd, and the corrupt ones were sent to jail swiftly. “Mercy is shown to none,” said Wang Xingning, director general of Guangdong Provincial Commission for Discipline Inspection, on July 5. “We also could recover so far 3 billion RMB (Tk 3,900 crore) lost through corruption.”
The province then took another significant step forward by setting up a bidding centre for the construction projects that were increasing in leaps and bounds.
In the last 10 years, the bidding centre has become a lighthouse of hope not only for China but for any country riddled with corruption.
Run by the government and supervised by the CPC, the centre works as a facilitator between the tenderers and bidders. It takes a maximum of 20 days to complete any bidding process. Cutting-edge information technology and a pool of 9,000 leading experts are hard at work to ensure that the whole process is transparent. Even a commoner can access any information on the centre’s website, including the bid value or witness selection of bid winners on a large digital screen at the centre. And the job is not done yet. The centre then moves to ensure that the bidder completes the project within time and abides by other construction obligations.
The statistics of its achievement are incredible. The annual transaction through the centre rose to Tk 1,30,000 crore (100 billion RMB) last year, which is about Tk 30,000 crore more than what Bangladesh has invested in infrastructure projects in the last 10 years. The centre, services of which are free of cost, has helped reduce construction costs significantly by creating a transparent and corruption-free environment for all parties. According to statistics, it has saved over Tk 92,000 crore for tenderers so far.
The centre also encourages all to lodge complaints, if any. Interestingly, no complaint was lodged in the last five years although the centre continued to facilitate a series of construction centrepieces like the famous Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge. China is now aiming even higher, planning to complete a tender process within a day.
In contrast, Bangladesh continues its confusing battle against corruption. Parties in power pledge to stamp out corruption but act otherwise. All governments have suffered from a denial syndrome at hint of corruption and done their utmost to render the anti-corruption commission ineffective.
The Awami League-led government is now all too angry at the World Bank and other donors for raising corruption concerns. The period of BNP rule too was no exception. The corruption watchdog Transparency International was flayed after it rated the country top corrupt in the world for two consecutive years. The communications ministry earned the dubious distinction of being most corrupt on both occasions.
Now, the AL-led government plans to build the Padma bridge with public money but says not a single word about its steps to contain corruption. “Are not the people concerned?” is the question hovering in the air.