The story of driver Abdul Malek of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), who was arrested on Sunday for allegedly accumulating immense wealth during his 35-year stint at the DGHS, is proof—if any more proof was ever needed—of how entrenched corruption has become in Bangladesh, and how deep the rabbit hole goes, from the top brass down to the lowest level of hierarchy. According to a report by The Daily Star quoting Rab officials, Malek has amassed wealth worth more than Tk 100 crore. He owns two seven-storied buildings consisting of 24 flats in the capital's Dakkhin Kamarpara area. He also owns several plots in different parts of the city. In one of these plots in Dhanmondi, he has a building now under construction. He also has a dairy farm on a 15-katha land plot in Dakkhin Kamarpara.
Initial investigations reveal that Malek borrowed a familiar playbook to build his little empire: abusing his connections to allow illegal recruitments, including of seven members of his own family, manipulating transfers and promotions, and even trading in "fake currencies". He used the front of his Health Directorate Drivers Association, of which he was the president, to exert his influence. Could a driver have done all this on his own? Who were his enablers and connections? How could someone so corrupt survive for so long without scrutiny or facing the consequences of his actions? These are questions that investigators need to look into and act upon.
Unfortunately, when it comes to facing corruption charges, we have often seen how low-level government employees were charged and investigated while their enablers—high-ranking officials without whose blessing and support they couldn't have gone far—elude detection. More often than not, even investigations into low-level corruption eventually fall by the wayside, thereby creating a culture of impunity that benefits all in the nexus. We're told that the Anti-Corruption Commission has been carrying out enquiries against 45 officials and staffers of DGHS, including Malek, since 2019. Recently, notices were issued against 12 of them—all low-level or mid-level employees. But what of their enablers? Are we to believe that their superiors had no knowledge of what was going on right under their noses? Unsurprisingly, Malek's former boss at the DGHS denied any knowledge of his corrupt activities.
The government must break this culture of deniability if corruption is truly to be eradicated. Malek must face the consequences of his actions. But he was not a lone wolf, and so any investigation into his crimes must look into the role his superiors and enablers played in his rise up the ladder. Unless those powerful backstage players in the DGHS and the health ministry are also brought to account, transparency and accountability, which is so crucial for the operation of these vital public institutions, will remain a distant dream.