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Aren’t all citizens equal before law?

Bangladesh on 12 November 2013
Location : Bangladesh | Source : Daily Star. Image Source: Stockmonkeys.com

Anti-Corruption Commission Chairman Badiuzzaman yesterday termed “unconstitutional” the newly introduced provision that requires the anti-graft body to take the government’s permission before filing graft cases against public servants.

Besides, civil society members and development partners have expressed their concern over the provision, and said it would make the anti-graft body dysfunctional.

Justifying his contention, Badiuzzaman citied article 27 of the constitution which reads, “All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law.”

When his attention was drawn to the ACC chief’s remarks, eminent jurist Shahdeen Malik echoed his views.

“The provision is discriminatory because it treats one group of people, who are government employees, differently than others as there is no necessity to take permission to file any case against other people,” he said.

He cited a recent High Court judgement that upheld the constitutional provision prohibiting making any discrimination.

The HC on September 26 declared “void and unconstitutional” the Contempt of Court Act that gives some protection to journalists and government officials.

Provisions of the Contempt of Court Act, 2013 are discriminatory since those give protection to a section of people, said the judgment, adding, “Every citizen is equal in the eye of law as per the constitution.”

The Jaiya Sangsad on Sunday passed a bill amending the ACC Act, 2004 to introduce the controversial provision, paying no heed to widespread criticism against it.

Contacted, Sultana Kamal, chairperson of Transparency International Bangladesh Trustee Board, also termed the provision “unconstitutional” and “unfair”.

She said since government officials are paid by people, they have to be more accountable to people. They do not deserve any government protection.

Talking to journalists at his office, Badiuzzaman said the new provision will weaken the ACC to some extent, and might encourage government officials to indulge in more corruption.

“The amended law curtails the ACC’s freedom to some extent as it will need prior permission from the government for submitting charge sheet against government officials.”

Replying to a question, he said the amendment will weaken the ACC but will not completely turn it into the now defunct bureau (Bureau of Anti-Corruption).

The bureau was converted into the ACC, a statutory body, in 2004. The  same year, the ACC Act-2004 was made and it was amended on Sunday.

The anti-graft body chief mentioned that opinions of the parliamentary standing committee concerned and the commission on the draft amendment to the law were ignored while amending it.

Asked would he take any steps to bring changes in this regard, he said the tenure of the present parliament is almost over, so they were thinking what they could do.

DONORS’ CONCERN

Development partners yesterday expressed concern over introduction of the controversial provision in the ACC Act.

Representatives of the donors at a meeting with the finance minister expressed their concern.

“This will damage the spirit of the ACC,” one of them was quoted as saying.

Neal Walker, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh, said there were some differences from the earlier version of the act. “This concern was actually brought up by a representative of the EU.”

The development partners put emphasis on further consideration of the new provision in the act.

Finance Minister AMA Muhith told journalists that the donor agencies expressed their “concern” and “reservation” over the new provision.

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