Extortion, Bribery and Corruption of State Actors in CHT-2

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Photo: Govt development models that are fertile ground for extortion, bribery and corruption in govt offices and authorities

                      Udayan Tanchangya                 

After the previous publication ….

◐ Bribery, Extortion and Corruption in Development Programmes:

In the CHT region, infrastructure development programmes, such as, construction of roads, bridges, culverts, buildings etc. are mainly implemented by the CHT Development Board (CHTDB), three Hill District Councils (HDCs), Local Government Engineering Department (LGED), the Road and Highways Department, Engineering Core of Bangladesh army, etc.

In these development works, usually, a total of bribe/donation of 8% of the project budget comprising 3% has to be paid to the concerned Engineer and 5% has to be paid to the concerned office. It can be said that in development works it is the rate of extortion which is also officially recognized by many government offices.

In the Annual Report (2018-19) of the CHT Development Board, Chairman of the Board Naba Bikram Kishore Tripura mentioned that the Development Board has implemented development works worth of Tk. 95.00 crores in 298 schemes under Development Assistance Code No. 221001100 in the financial year 2018-2019 while a total worth of Tk. 123.49 crore development works of 31 long-term projects have been implemented under Development Assistance Code No. 221000900.

Accordingly, the development works worth a total of Tk. 217.49 crore have been implemented by the CHT Development Board in the 2018-19 financial year. If the bribe or donation was paid @ Tk. 8% of the said amount, worth of at least 17 crore 50 lakh Taka was transacted in extortion or bribe

Accordingly, the development works worth a total of Tk. 217.49 crore have been implemented by the CHT Development Board in the 2018-19 financial year. If the bribe or donation was paid @ Tk. 8% of the said amount, worth of at least 17 crore 50 lakh Taka was transacted in extortion or bribe during the 2018-19 financial year of the Development Board.

On the other hand, in the financial year 2018-2019, Khagrachhari Hill District Council has implemented development works worth of Tk. 58.75 crore in total under the Local Government Development Assistance Scheme comprising of Tk. 13 crore for 261 projects (vide Project Code No. 221001000) and Tk. 45.75 crore for 230 projects (vide Project Code No. 221000100). Since almost equal amount of money was allocated to the three Hill District Councils, therefore, the amount of development works stands at least Tk. 176 crore, which was spent by the three Hill District Councils in the 2018-2019 financial year. If the bribe or donation was paid @ Tk. 8% of the said amount, worth of at least 14 crore 8 lakh Taka was paid in extortion or bribe head during the 2018-19 financial year in all the three Hill District Councils.

There are also various government Departments including the Local Government Engineering Department and Road & Highways Department through which development programs worth of several hundred crore Taka have been implemented; wherein, following the same mannerism, making total payment of 8% under bribery/donation head with a breakage @ 3% Taka to the concerned Executive Engineer and @  5% Taka to the office concerned, as a pre-fixed amount, is necessarily payable to the concerned authorities. Accordingly, it is only under the bribery head, crores of Taka has been realized in extortion by various government offices.

Besides, there are various forms of corruption, irregularities and tender scam in the implementation of projects. Corruption and irregularities also include: low quality work, infrastructure work with low quality materials, financial embezzlement without work, etc. the practice of which is an open secret all over the country and CHT is not an exception to this . According to the concerned people, the amount accrued out of such irregularities could be at least Tk 100 crore dealt by the CHTDB and HDCs alone. One of the brightest examples of the kind is Construction Project of 71 feet high Portrait and Mural of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in Rangamati.

Although the Rangamati Hill District Council budgeted Tk. 87 lakh for the said project in 2009, but three contractors entered upon a contract worth of Tk. 26 lakh with artist Shariful Islam Sabuj. Later on, the project budget of Tk. 87 lakh was increased on different occasions but meanwhile Tk 4 crores has already been spent without making visible progress. There is still a lot of work left to be done to complete the project. It is learnt that a process for further allocation of fund amounting to Tk. 4 crore is underway.

According to Jamuna TV’s investigation report, the Deputy Assistant Engineer of Rangamati Upazila office, Ershadul Haque Mondal alone has misappropriated Tk. 1.0 million from this project. According to artist Shariful Islam Sabuj, who made the portrait and mural of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the contractors have completed the construction work with low-quality rods and cement and employed local unskilled labourers. The video report also shows that Engineer Ershadul Haque Mondal was trying to bribe an investigating reporter of Jamuna TV, in a bid, to hide their corruption, irregularities and financial embezzlement.

However, the army and DGFI authorities are completely silent over the issue of corruption and irregularities of the project the site of which is located at a stone-thrown distance from the Rangamati Army Brigade Headquarters and DGFI offices. But astonishingly, without raising a voice against such numerous corruptions and irregularities in CHT, the army, DGFI, local administration, local ruling party leadership have been constantly firing cannon of words against only the PCJSS alleging of extortion.

Needless to say, the main objective of the ruling class is to criminalize the just movement for rights of the Jumma people by spreading propaganda alleging of extortion, diverting the situation to different course and trying to conceal their misdeeds of anti-Accord and anti-interest of Jumma people, and above all, to turn the non-Muslim inhabited CHT into a Muslim inhabited area by thwarting down the effort to solve the CHT problem by political and peaceful means through implementation of the CHT Accord.

◐ Employment Trading:

During tenure of the present government, the issue of massive-scale bribery and corruption in recruiting the 3rd and 4th class employees in the three HDCs, the CHTDB and various government departments is an issue of open secret. For instance, under the HDCs, for appointment of the 3rd and 4th class posts including posts of teachers and health workers, the amount of bribe ranging from Tk. 10 to Tk. 14 lakh is needed for employment of each post. In 2015-2016, around one thousand posts were filled up in all the three hill districts. If an average of Tk10 lakh taken for each post, the total amount in corruption stands Tk100 crore for one thousand posts, which goes into the pockets of the people associated with the ruling class.

It is known that in order to get appointed as a constable in the Bangladesh Police Force, one has to pay at least 5/6 lakh Taka. In such a situation, during tenure of the present government, it has become almost impossible for the poor people to get government or semi-government jobs in the three hill districts due to lack of money.

◐ Extortion by army-backed armed terrorist groups and military forces:

With the aim to thwart down the implementation process of the CHT Accord; in order to foil the process of political and peaceful resolution of the CHT problem; to destroy the Jumma people’s movement for right to self-determination and above all, in CHT, the ruling class including the army and DGFI, has been providing shelter and patronization to the Reformists and UPDF (Democratic) armed terrorist groups to ensure conflicts and violence among the regional parties. The other motive of the army behind it is to legitimize their presence in the hills on plea of existence of the armed groups and turmoil situation; and of course, to assert their promotion through persecuting so-called terrorists and political activists and above all, to harvest financial benefit by earning a share from extortion accumulated by the armed terrorist groups backed by them.

Though the army by name has not been directly mentioned for fear of harassment, some indication to that effect is found with the news published in the Samakal Daily on 13 July 2020. The news reads: “Behind the fratricidal conflict, there is fuelling on part of the Awami League. Having brought the issues of inner-group intrigues, contention for dominance and extortion before the media, an effort is being attempted to lay out a cover on the real motive. These conflicts are created to erect a reasoning as not to go for full implementation of the Peace Accord.”

In last April-May, the army escorted the Reformist and UPDF (Democratic) armed groups from Khagrachhari to Subalong of Barkal, Jibtali of Rangamati, Babuchara of Dighinala and Baghmara of Bandarban with security forces as safe guards. Following the 7 murders in Bandarban’s Baghmara, the Daily Purbakone reported on 9 July 2020 stating that “An influential section helps the Reformist group to carry out their activities in Bandarban.” The army took the Reformist and UPDF (Democratic) armed groups to those places and allowed them to carry out terrorist activities like extortion, kidnapping, killing etc. freely.

On 3 July 2020, a joint force from the Subalong army camp and the Rajmoni Para army camp surrounded a Buddhist monastery during a religious ceremony in the Kaindya area of ​​Balukhali Union under Rangamati Sadar Upazila. At that time, the army troop commander, Md. Soleiman, asked a villager (who did not want to be named), ‘Have you paid extortion to the PCJSS terrorists?’ In reply, the villager said, ‘Yes Sir, it has been already paid to the Reformist JSS camping at Subalong Bazar. You know that well. Purnanga Chakma, the commander of Reformist group already stationed at Sublong Bazar, had instructed over phone to pay Tk 1.5 lakh from all the villages in Kaindya area. Accordingly, towards end of June, the commander of Reformist group Artik Chakma was given Tk 72,500 in cash.’

Then the army commander did not say anything and asked another Tanchangya villager, the villager replied, “Sir, are you looking for terrorists, extortionists? In front of you in Subalong Bazaar, the Reformists are collecting money from the innocent people by day and night. On the other hand, the Reformists have set up regular their Check Posts at Chairman Para of Jibtali Union and are collecting extortion every day. Tk. 2000 per boat has to be paid. Don’t this fall under the category of terrorism and extortion?” The commander did not make any comment by then.

 There are allegations that extortion money collected by Reformist and UPDF (Democratic) groups is shared ranging from the local army camps to higher levels of the 24th Infantry Division in Chittagong. 

There are allegations that extortion money collected by Reformist and UPDF (Democratic) groups is shared ranging from the local army camps to higher levels of the 24th Infantry Division in Chittagong.

◐ Corruption and asset of local ruling party leaders and workers:

The unprecedented corruption, extortion, bribery and tender scam of the ruling Awami League continue to exist in the three hill districts. Through corruption and misuse of power, the local ruling party leaders and workers have gathered heaves of wealth in the three hill districts. Some news of such malpractices come to public in various national dailies from time to time. Similarly, the news of extortion, kidnapping, demand for ransom and tender scam of the local ruling party leaders and workers of Chhatra League and Juba League also appear in the newspapers from time to time. The following are some of the reports of accumulation of heaves of wealth, corruption, extortion and events kidnappings involving the ruling party.

According to a news titled: “Bir Bahadur’s income and wealth have increased” published in the daily Samakal on 12 January 2019, says: “Before the last election, the annual income of this MP from Bandarban was Tk 45 lakh from rubber business. This time his income has quadrupled in five years. The sources of income have also increased. At present, his annual income is 01 crore 57 lakh 61 thousand Taka. …Before the 2014 election, he had 01 crore 36 lakh 34 thousand taka in his bank account, now he has 04 crore 36 lakh 23 thousand taka.” This is just an account of the officially known assets shown in the election affidavit. Many people guess that Bir Bahadur has huge amount of unexposed assets worth of several hundred crores of takas.

In the news item titled “Bravery of Bir Bahadur’s wife” published in the daily Prothom Alo on 5 December 2018, it was said: “State Minister of Ministry of CHT Affairs, Bir Bahadur Ushwe Sing and his wife have surpassed all the other four ministers in greater Chittagong in terms of wealth and income. Over the last 10 years, the income of this MP from Bandarban has increased 9 times and the property has increased 14 times than before. However, in both the cases, his wife Mehla Prue has left him behind. Her property (movable and immovable) has increased 75 times and her income has increased 93 times.”

The news item titled “Wealth has got flourished” published in the daily Prothom Alo on 20 December 2013 states: “In 2008, the financial value of MP Dipankar Talukdar’s immovable assets was only Tk 7.69 lakh. But in 2013, the financial value of his immovable assets raised up to Tk 2.73 crore. In 2008, his wife had deposited Tk. 49,000 in banks and other financial institutions. But in 2013, his wife’s assets rose worth of more than Tk. 60 lakh.”

The news item titled: “Two groups of BCL face off in Rangamati” published in the Daily Jugantor on 29 January 2020 states: “Rangamati District Chhatra League, a student wing of the ruling party, is involved in a quarrel publicly. The two opposite groups took their positions against each other. It is learnt that the district leaders and activists were divided into two groups due to illegal occupation and tender scam.” At one time, the BCL was seen taking the law in its own hands by snatching the accused persons from the police custody in Rangamati.

According to the report of chttoday.com dated 19 April 2018: ‘Juba League leader Mosharraf was killed in Dighinala of Khagrachhari district due to conflict over woodpecker business, extortion and money sharing’. On the other hand, on 5 April 2014, banglanews24.com reported that at the invitation of Farooq, an army soldier named Nantu Ali went to Ramgarh on 29 March 2014 boarding in a night coach of Shyamoli Paribahan. While Nantu Ali reached there, nine persons of Ramgarh Upazila and Municipal Juba League along with Farooq kidnapped him and demanded a ransom of Tk 3 lakh from his family. Later, on 1 April, Nantu was rescued from a grove called ‘Banabithi’ in Ramgarh by police and RAB. Nine people, including three Juba League leaders, were arrested on charges of being involved in the incident.

The above incidents prove how the local leadership of the ruling Awami League and associate organizations in the three hill districts are amassing a huge amount of wealth by looting the development money through corruption, extortion, bribery and tender scamming.

Not only that, local leadership of the ruling party are involved in fueling the Muslim settlers to create communal tensions against the Jumma people, in occupation of Jumma people’s lands in the name of developing tourism and rubber plantations including carrying out reactionary activities against the CHT Accord and against interests of the Jumma people and creating obstructions to the implementation process of the CHT Accord. etc.

❐ So, it can be said without a doubt that it is not the ‘extortion’ of so-called tribal terrorists but the Corruption, irregularities, bribery, extortion and misdeeds of the ruling party comprise the major problems in the three hill districts and the main obstacle blocking the development conducive to the CHT Accord.

◐ Conclusion:

In this way, today CHT has been turned into a paradise of abuse of power by the army, law and order and intelligence forces, local administration, various government offices and the ruling party. In the CHT region, the government authorities resort to pretence, as if, they do not see the unprecedented bribery, extortion, corruption and misconduct, including the ongoing military supremacy and repression against the Jumma people.

The concerned authorities of the government have been playing a silent role in the ongoing unprecedented bribery, extortion, corruption and misuse of power including the ongoing military hegemony and repression upon the Jumma people. On the other hand, the army, law enforcement and intelligence forces, local administration and ruling party continue to spread propaganda at home and in abroad labelling the organizations and individuals engaged in the movement for rights of the Jumma people, including PCJSS, as ‘extortionists’, ‘terrorists’ and ‘separatists’.

Thus, today the state forces and the government are engaged in spreading ‘information terrorism’ against the Jumma people in one hand while they are imposing the development engineering to destroy the existence of Jumma people and environment of CHT, on the other. So, it can be said without a doubt that it is not the ‘extortion’ of so-called tribal terrorists but the Corruption, irregularities, bribery, extortion and misdeeds of the ruling party comprise the major problems in the three hill districts and the main obstacle blocking the development conducive to the CHT Accord.

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