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07th-Aug-2015

Extortion economy is not development economy anywhere

By Editorial Desk

The size of the "economy of extortion" in the country is immense as the several wings of the ruling party and its hundreds of units across the country, local musclemen mentored by lawmakers, law enforcers of every layer or merely government employees – all are free to extort the general people to swell the black economy. The buzzing word "extortion" got momentum while anarchists threaten law abiding people and law enforcing agencies become fearsome for people. Rule under patry-archy has suppressed the basic democratic exercise, rule of law, transparency and accountability.
Extortion is a form of corruption along with bribery, fraud, embezzlement or money laundering. The Finance Minister's estimate that widespread graft takes 2 to 3 percent off the economy has serious implications for the country's development. The Minister has quantified the loss to as much as TK 24,735 crore in the last fiscal year. Earlier in parliament, he expressed his frustration in taking punitive action against corrupt officials involved in major financial scams because of political backing. Thus the Minister has very frankly pointed out to the cancer of corruption that plagues every sector and seeps into every sphere of public life. The World Economic Forum estimates that the costs of corruption equal five percent of GDP.
Who are the extortionists in the country is more difficult to answer. Some examples of extortion in recent times have showed us that the size of extortion is proportional to the volume of power.
According to a report published on July 22, this year, Disaster Management and Relief Minister Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya opposed a proposal to stop extortion by party men in the name of observing the National Mourning Day programmes. Maya, also general secretary of the Dhaka City Awami League, even sought to know where the party activists would get the money to observe the programme if party men were barred from extorting money. Though a joint secretary of the ruling party said no extortion would be tolerated in the name of observing the National Mourning Day, no steps were yet taken to stop the feared extortion. Before the National Mourning Day last year, Maya sent letters to different business organisations and institutions, seeking sponsorship for decorating 27 road dividers of the city on the occasion of August 15, but no case was filed or no step was taken against the Minister for extortion.
Country's transport sector is one of the prime sources of extorted money. A transport leader said extortionists collect about Tk 1.5 crore every day from the transport sector across the country. Local police and civil administration, influential politicians from Ward level to MP level and transport workers' association  extort money from vehicles as they receive their proportionate share regularly. During Eid rush, it is often seen that law enforcers create hassles by stopping transports frequently at various spots in the name of checking papers of transports and drivers and only let them off after getting bribes.
The adamant and powerful extortionists have been collecting about Tk 1.5 lakh daily in illegal toll as "parking fees" from goods-laden vehicles entering Karwan Bazar. The City Corporation charges highest Tk 10 an hour for the parking of a vehicle between 7:00am and 7:00pm. Parking is supposed to be free throughout the night, and trucks are excluded because they are allowed in the city only after 10:00pm. But for the past few months, a gang of about 100 men have been extorting Tk 50 from each truck at night. In Ramzan, they charged double — Tk 100 for trucks and between Tk 20 and 50 for auto-rickshaws and rickshaw-vans.
Police cases are used for extortion as a normal thing. It should be known to everybody but it is not being stopped. We feel unhappy to say this but police remand in every case is unheard of, but it is going on for extortion of money. Where criminals have been arrested red-handed they are not taken on remand but there are cases where innocent persons arrested are taken into police remands. Extortion and corruption when committed fearlessly and freely is lawlessness.
The government cannot also believe corrupt officials and extortionists for knowing the truth about development. Law and order is breaking down and that is the hard reality.