Civil Society in Bangladesh A Long Journey to Anti-corruption

Civil Society in Bangladesh A Long Journey to Anti-corruption By Abul Hasan

Issue, National

Although Bangladesh is growing economic country in the world, corruption is big burden here. Bangladesh is rated as one of the most corrupt countries throughout the world by various non-government organizations. For example in the list of least corrupt countries, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) rated Bangladesh as the 143th with score 28 (out of 100) of the world. In Bangladesh, Civil Society is recognized for its vibrant performance in social development and active in micro-credit and other social activities, it is now often criticized for its inability to influence good governance and democracy. Many people feel helpless to address the problem of corruption and are gradually losing trust on the government and public sectors. There are a number of the push factors (political pressure, corruption of the superiors, flawed recruitment process, insufficient allocation, poor remuneration,Civil Society in Bangladesh A Long Journey to Anti-corruption personnel systems, probe bodies, politicization, and education of the children) and the pull factors (culture of impunity, personal greed, mutual corruption pressure, systematic corruption, complicated and cumbersome pressure in government offices) which are working as the key catalyst to the proliferation of corruption in Bangladesh. Many of the anti-Corruption measures in Bangladesh do not get success, as only the initiative by government of Bangladesh, civil societies, NGOs and the development partners taken to address the problem are through legal instruments. It is necessary to understand the reasons for the failure of these initiatives. It is often said that if the government and civil society (except few) are associated with corruption, then who will take effective policy measures and strategic intervention against corruption. This essay strives to assess the role of civil society against corruption in Bangladesh and their success and failure behind this.


In the list of least corrupt countries, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) rated Bangladesh as the 143th with score 28 (out of 100) of the world. The law enforcement agencies are the most corrupt service sector (72.5 pc) followed by the Department of Immigration and Passport (67.3 pc) and Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) (65.4 pc).


This essay is based on theoretical and empirical research. The aim of this essay is to discuss and assess the following questions mainly based on the practical experience, literature reviews and reports of National and International organizations. In Bangladesh, corruption remained a serious problem and it is pervasive at all levels in society. According to Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) data, 164 of the 12, 704 filed cases were disposed (brought to completion) in the first eight months in 2017. Of these, 110 resulted in conviction and 54 resulted in acquittal; 360 cases against government officials, business leaders, and political leaders were stayed by the High Court and did not progress (HRR, 2017). The law enforcement agencies are the most corrupt service sector (72.5 pc) followed by the Department of Immigration and Passport (67.3 pc) and Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) (65.4 pc). The survey report said about 63.1 percent people have to pay bribe for availing of services from the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), 60.7 percent from law enforcement agencies ( for example, police, RAB and others), 59.3 percent from Passport Department (TIB, 2017). These are the mere information that has been unveiled piercing lots of secret paths.

Traditional organizations such as labor unions, professional associations, university groups, chambers of commerce and even newspapers are identified primarily by their political affiliations. With few exceptions, most of these CSOs belong to one of the major three ideological camps- Secularist, Nationalist and Islamist.

Civil Society and its Role against Corruption
Civil society or civil society organizations (CSOs) can play a crucial role in articulating public concerns and identifying ways to reduce corruption. Neo-Tocquevillean literature generally considers civil society in idealized terms: autonomous, democratic and rich in social capital and civic engagement, always enhancing democracy. In explaining this theory, Diamond emphasizes the necessity of a vibrant civil society to bring institutional reform and fight against corruption and clientelism in a new democracy. Civil society is also expected to supplement political parties by stimulating political participation, building a better citizenry, and providing leadership training. Ultimately, experience with associational life may enrich other democratic values, such as tolerance, moderation, compromise and respect for opposing views. In Thailand after 1992, for example, civil society organizations played a vital role, put themselves in strategic positions, and became involved in monitoring political activities.


Traditional organizations such as labor unions, professional associations, university groups, chambers of commerce and even newspapers are identified primarily by their political affiliations. With few exceptions, most of these CSOs belong to one of the major three ideological camps- Secularist, Nationalist and Islamist.


They participated in poll-watch activities during elections and advocated for social and political reform. In this way, CSOs played a crucial role reducing corruption from government sector from Thailand. In Bangladesh, it is undeniable that group-based micro credit, community-based education and health awareness systems introduced by NGOs have had direct positive impacts on poverty eradication, literacy and health management. Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), for example, is also playing an important role from its beginning against corruption from different public and private sectors. Its long-term plan is to have a presence in every parliamentary constituency and monitoring public officials as well as political activities, because the majority percent of corruption in Bangladesh is occurring in these places.

Traditional organizations such as labor unions, professional associations, university groups, chambers of commerce and even newspapers are identified primarily by their political affiliations. With few exceptions, most of these CSOs belong to one of the major three ideological camps- Secularist, Nationalist and Islamist.Politicized Civil Society in Bangladesh
One of the most fundamental obstacles to building trust in government in Bangladesh is the pervasive nature of corruption at many levels: parliament, elections, and the delivery of core public services.In the first 18 years of independence, Bangladesh politics faced government turnovers and military coup with no party competition; for this reason, there was a monopoly of a section of politicians, bureaucrats, military leaders and their parties. After the end of the autocratic rule of General Ershad in 1990 and the reintroduction of the parliamentary system of government, a competitive but confrontational party system has been observed in Bangladesh. The two major parties are the left-centric Awami League (AL), which is aligned with other, smaller left-wing parties, and the right-centric Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which is aligned with other Islamic-minded parties. Both parties had an equal probability of winning a general election and forming a cabinet with their coalition partners if the election was free and fair. Since 1991, BNP and AL have served as the government twice each alternately (BNP, 1991-1996 and 2001-2006 and AL, 1996-2001, 2008-present) with their coalition or supporting partners. However, in 2014 through a controversial general election, AL continues its regime.
Traditional organizations such as labor unions, professional associations, university groups, chambers of commerce and even newspapers are identified primarily by their political affiliations. With few exceptions, most of these CSOs belong to one of the major three ideological camps- Secularist, Nationalist and Islamist. The ruling party, whether the AL or BNP, has shown through its decisions and actions that it gives special support and rewards to those CSOs that gave positive assistance in helping that party win its election, and acts directly against the CSOs that collaborated with the opposition. Labor union leaders, rather than promoting workers’ interests, are motivated to take undue advantage from their position or concentrate on forming links with political parties or higher government functionaries. Political penetration is also observed in rural society. The contemporary rural power structure in Bangladesh revealed interesting changes where links with political parties were shown to be the most important factor in rural power structure. Another significant change within rural society is the emerging new type of grouping and rivalry, reflecting the polarization and confrontation found in national politics. When most of the NGOs at the national level are politically divided, at the local level they have been identified as the new patrons of the poor, both as direct providers of microcredit and as mediators between the poor and other power structures. Among the intellectual and professional groups, the university professors and lawyers are at the extreme of political division and factions. Professors join the conflicting political blocs for personal gain and power as well as ideology and thus, lose the strength to monitor the university administration or the government. The lawyers’ associations in Bangladesh are equally politicized.

Traditional organizations such as labor unions, professional associations, university groups, chambers of commerce and even newspapers are identified primarily by their political affiliations. With few exceptions, most of these CSOs belong to one of the major three ideological camps- Secularist, Nationalist and Islamist.Success or Failure of Civil Society in Bangladesh
Civil society plays a role in public debate and is often connected to political parties and do not always act independently. The ruling party has frequently vilified civil society. Modern development NGOs and their apex organization, the Association for Development Agencies in Bangladesh (ADAB), were considered neutral or apolitical to a point. However, political conflict ultimately led to divisions within this NGO community too. NGOs actually created a public resource distribution system outside the nation state; in this way, civil society in Bangladesh has supplemented the state development policy. However, it is also fact, that civil society influenced by conflicting political parties often has become polarized, corrupt and ineffective in democratic terms. Moreover, CSOs, including the development NGOs in Bangladesh, appear to have entered the long patron-client chains running from top government leaders down to the periphery of Bangladesh. Similarly, NGOs have often been accused of becoming new patrons for the poor. Although Bangladesh is ethnically homogenous and casteless, its society is vertically constructed and politically polarized. Here, civil society, instead of forming bonds and bridging social capital among different groups, helps sharpen existing political divisions, which have their origins in historical circumstances and have been strategically used and generated by political parties. Thus, in Bangladesh, civil society has been behaving in the opposite dimension of what is ideally expected from it in relation to democracy. Moreover, civil society is often observed to be compromising to its essential watchdog status due to the strong influence of political forces and its accompanying loss of independence and finally, their failure against corruption in Bangladesh outweigh the success.


It was revealed that for CSOs, whether rural or urban, large or small, survival requires political connections. Without political blessing, it is not possible for CSOs to move forward.


It is often presumed that the more associations, for example, NGOs, CSOs there are in a country the greater the possibility that democratic institutions will improve and the corruption will go down, but the Bangladesh case has proved such expectations from civil society organizations to be unrealistic and normative. Civil society is found to be enmeshed with the political structure. CSOs have been found to be actually engaged, intentionally or unintentionally, in executing the ideological hegemony of the state, the government and mostly the political parties. Through the research, the politicization of the CSOs, the influence of the ruling party, the divisions within civil society and the societies’ alignments along party lines have been shown to be factual. It was revealed that for CSOs, whether rural or urban, large or small, survival requires political connections. Without political blessing, it is not possible for CSOs to move forward. Systems for internal democracy are often fractured along national party lines. Any advocacy that may go against the regime is generally met with strong resistance from the state. In the last five years, a good number of incidents took place at the national level that have attracted international attention, and depict an intolerant regime towards the vigilant section of the civil society. So it may be understood that politicization and control is evident both at the periphery and at the core of civil society. Instead of monitoring the state apparatus, they are contributing to the misdeeds of the government and political parties.

The writer is a Student at National Research University-Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia and a researcher of Political Economy of Development.