Image: A cartoon by Dahir al-Hossain Mahi, entered into the competition organised by Transparency International Bangladesh
BERLIN - In 2017, a survey by Transparency International Bangladesh found that half the households in the country had recently paid a bribe when accessing public services.
The total amount of bribes paid was equivalent to more than 3% of the Bangladesh national budget.
Earlier, in 2012, a study of members of parliament in Bangladesh found 97% were alleged to be involved in illegal activities.
Some 75% of MPs had abused development projects for their own benefit and 62% were found to have influenced local elections.
Corruption on this scale requires a radical solution and, over the years, TI Bangladesh has built a grassroots movement of 6,000 people through Committees of Concerned Citizens (CCCs).
Working on a voluntary basis, these groups around the country inform, motivate and mobilise other citizens to fight corruption.
To engage young people, the CCCs organise cartoon competitions, anti-corruption photo competitions, debates, anti-corruption quizzes and various other cultural events for people under 25. They also organise theatre shows to build awareness of the impacts of corruption.
Young volunteers disseminate information at public centres and are trained to use the Right to Information Act to access information crucial for preventing corruption.
CCCs play a central role in the tools TI Bangladesh deploys in the country’s most corrupt sectors. These include citizens’ report cards, client satisfaction surveys, and baseline and follow-up surveys.
At ‘Face the Public’ events organised by CCCs, citizens can voice their concerns to public officials and representatives. The goal is twofold: empowering citizens to hold officials to account and putting officials under public pressure to be more responsive.
Recent gatherings have aimed to reduce the gender gap in childhood education. Women who come to the events can go on to join an Active Mothers’ Forum and participate on a more regular and sustainable level.
TI Bangladesh’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres also get vital support from CCCs. The centres receive corruption complaints, provide free legal advice on how to seek redress and refer selected cases to partner organisations for legal aid.
Apart from legal support, the CCCs also monitor the distribution of social safety net cards among poor and marginalised parts of the population and follow-up with local government when corruption and irregularities are found.
All this social accountability work uncovers what local authorities should be doing but are not, or what citizens are entitled to but are not getting.
It also highlights the limitations and constraints of the local authorities. These findings then are documented in policy briefs and inform advocacy at the national level.
The closely interconnected threefold approach of research, advocacy and social accountability — all conducted at the local and national levels — has allowed TI Bangladesh to make huge progress against corruption.
In 2015, Iftekhar Zaman, executive director of TI Bangladesh, won the Global Partnership for Social Accountability Award for his work advocating for transparency and good governance in Bangladesh. He dedicated the award to the CCCs.
The reason is simple: they lead the fight against corruption from below, and are an inspiration for the transparency movement.