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Although the 12th parliamentary election is coming closer, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) asserts that it lacks specific area of authority as a constitutional body to investigate the aspirants’ assets beyond declared income ahead of the ensuing January 7 scheduled polls.
As per directives of the Election Commission (EC), candidates of the ensuing national polls – irrespective of party loyalists and independent ones – have already submitted their affidavits to the EC, with a number of submitted affidavits having unveiled unusual wealth of the candidates.
While the ACC has the authority to investigate assets beyond declared income, the constitutional body has found that it lacks specific scopes of doing anything with the election looming.
When asked, ACC Secretary Mahbub Hossain clarified that the commission does not have concrete plans specifically related to the upcoming election.
He emphasised that the ACC operates within its designated mandate, and elections are under the purview of the Election Commission. The voting process is managed by the Election Commission, and the ACC doesn't have specific opportunities for election-related actions. If the Election Commission seeks information or makes requests, the ACC will respond accordingly within the legal framework.
Regarding the inquiry based on affidavits conducted in the last elections, when asked if a similar approach would be taken this time, the ACC secretary mentioned, "If there is any guideline or instruction in this regard, it should come from the commission." He clarified that knowing the information filed in the affidavits, as reported by the media, doesn't necessarily prompt immediate action by the ACC. However, if there are specific complaints against any individual, the information from the affidavits may be useful in investigations under the Commission Act, and it will be duly considered if needed.
In response to questions about whether the ACC's current approach differs from past cases where it filed cases against ruling MP-ministers based on affidavit information, the ACC Secretary stated, "ACC is doing what it is supposed to do according to the law. Initiating action immediately based on all the information in the affidavit is not the case. It will be done when the need arises."
When asked if the ACC is perceived to be maintaining double standards, the secretary asserted, "The commission works according to its laws and policies."
Regarding the monitoring of black money usage in elections, the secretary mentioned, "The commission will take action according to the law."
Regarding post-election actions, he responded, "Election is a different matter."
On the question of monitoring information from the media, specifically related to affidavits and individuals increasing wealth through the misuse of power, the secretary stated, "ACC will work according to its law. There is no scope for classification here."
When pressed for a definitive statement about the affidavits, the secretary stated, "There is no opportunity to make such statements." He emphasised that the ACC does not have the authority to favor either the ruling party or the opposition. The commission operates on two fronts, prevention, and remedy. Preventive measures are taken to deter corruption, while remedial actions involve investigating and prosecuting individuals involved in corruption-related offenses. The commission continues its work without interruption, adhering to the law.
Following the ACC Secretary's statement that the ACC does not have specific opportunities related to the election, ACC Commissioner (Investigation) Zahurul Haque clarified, "We are not concerned about the affidavit. We are not concerned about the election. We are concerned about corruption." When asked if the ACC will consider media reports about the affidavits, he responded, "We cannot answer without obtaining the correct information."
Regarding the possibility of taking action based on assets outside the known income as per the affidavits, ACC Commissioner (Investigation) Zahurul Haque mentioned, "It will have to be discussed in the commission. We need to see."
In response to these developments, TIB Executive Director Dr. Iftekharuzzaman has expressed the view that while the ACC does not have a direct election-focused role, it should pay attention to matters falling within its jurisdiction.
He noted that media reports have highlighted abnormal financial development based on candidates' asset affidavits.
Dr. Iftekharuzzaman emphasised that the ACC has the authority to take action ex-officio if suspicious circumstances or irregularities come to their notice. He stressed the importance of scrutinising whether the information disclosed in the affidavits reflects reality and whether the wealth declared is consistent with legitimate income, which falls within the ACC's jurisdiction.
Dr. Iftekharuzzaman suggested that taking specific actions, such as investigating a few individuals, could enhance public confidence in the ACC. However, he expressed skepticism about the ACC's interest and capability to pursue such actions, citing potential political influence and a perceived lack of initiative.
In response to the ongoing discussion, former Director General of ACC (Legal and Prosecution) Moyeedul Islam commented, "The EC is supposed to look into the affidavit, as ACC deals with resources. According to the statement of assets given in the affidavit, the ACC can act if there are assets other than known income."
He emphasised that the ACC has the authority to investigate assets beyond the known income for both candidates running in the election and those funding them.
Moidul Islam stressed that the ACC's work is not contingent on the presence or absence of an election, stating, "ACC will work even if there is an election, ACC will work even if there is no election."
Meanwhile, the ACC is set to observe the 'International Anti-Corruption Day' today, prior to the election.