Shocking outflow of scarce resources

A country will experience inflows and outflows of resources from it and these are to be considered as legitimate activities in many cases. But when the outflows to a large extent are the outcome of illegitimate operations, then the economy of the country stands threatened.
This has been the case in respect of Bangladesh, an underdeveloped country which should normally aspire to keep within its boundaries as much resources as possible for its own utilisation when the realities seem to be different. It is no more a matter of speculation but a well known fact that huge resources are being drained away from Bangladesh by a class of wastrels, so called businesses, wheeler-dealers and parasites who are least motivated by ethical or patriotic feelings.
In the pre independence days, the economic argument for the establishment of Bangladesh was largely based on retention of local resources for the benefit of the local economy. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is remembered for his very rightly wanting to keep erstwhile East Pakistan’s earnings and resources within its territorial bounds. Indeed, the colonial exploitation of our resources and the unstopped flight of the same to the then West Pakistan, formed a major part of the rationale of the autonomy movement which culminated in the liberation struggle of Bangladesh. But to what extent this principle is being realised now in the free country ? Any impartial assessment would show up a substantial outflow of resources out of Bangladesh through illegal and unethical means on a regular basis. This flight of resources from the country, its level and impact on the economy, calls for an urgent study and if it is carried out the same would likely establish that the resource flight is on a very large scale. A leading national daily newspaper reported that centering on the grave political uncertainty that had seized the country and apprehensions about its ultimate outcome, a veritable stampede started participated by all kinds of resourceful persons (falling in either the somewhat scrupulous or the totally unscrupulous categories) to pump out as much of their resources abroad at the fastest. One may point to the inflow of remittance from expatriate Bangladeshi workers as a positive sign. However, the cumulative effect of such inward remittances could be much greater if it was matched by a hard brake put on the illegitimate outflow of resources. No one can estimate with absolute accuracy the total amount of such transferred resources since the creation of Bangladesh. But experts have predicted at roundtable discussions that the total amount of transferred resources since the independence of the country would be an enormous one ; they have speculated that the resources transferred only in recent years would be enough to finance at least two consecutive national budgets. Thus, there is no need to elaborate on how the recovery of these monies substantially and utilizing them for developmental activities and spending on people’s welfare, will mean great gains for this country and its people.
The tasks of recovering illegally transferred resources are not impossible either. If successive governments make determined efforts without wasting time and remain tenaciously engaged in the course, then very significant positive results can be expected. This optimism is borne out by the success rate of other countries in bringing back their similar resources and the much improved international climate favouring this trend. The late military strongman of Nigeria, General Sani Abacha, was accused for transferring $ 3 billions of public money to secret accounts abroad. After his fall, the successor governments maintained their hunt for the stolen money and their painstaking efforts have paid off. Nigeria, so far has been able to recover a substantial part of Abacha’s criminally acquired resources. Nigeria recovered a total of $505.5 million from Swiss authorities being money stolen and stashed away by Abacha, according to data released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Bank, under a new initiative called the Stolen Asset Recovery (STAR) programme.
While Nigeria was able to readily recover from domestic institutions $800 million of the $3 billion that the late Abacha is estimated to have stolen during his rule, it took five years of legal effort before $505.5 million was released by Swiss authorities for return. In all, a little over $1.3 billion has been recovered so far from the late head of state’s transferred and ill gotten resources and this is not a small success.
In May 1999, Time magazine estimated that the external family fortunes of the former strongman of Indonesia, General Suharto, was US$ 15 billion in cash, shares, corporate assets, real estate, jewelry and fine art. Of this, US$ 9 billion was reported to have been deposited in an Austrian bank during Suharto’s 32 years of corrupt dictatorship. Successive Indonesian governments have been sustaining in their struggle to get back the looted money and so far several billions of Dollars have returned to Indonesia.
In 2001, after her term had ended as President of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos was arrested on charges of corruption and extortion committed during her husband’s presidency. The charges centered on approximately $684 million that mysteriously “disappeared” from the Filipino treasury during the Marcos presidency. The investigators believed the wealth was stolen by the Marcos family and stashed in their Swiss bank account. In 2003, the money was awarded to the Philippine Government by the Swiss authorities after successful legal battles. A sum of over $ 1 billion of the Marcos family’s transferred resources have been recovered and the fight is on to recover the rest. Thus, there is no reason for the Bangladesh authorities to feel hopeless in continuing a similar struggle. Success will come their way if they remain resolutely on course and do what must be done. The main requirement seems to be the creation of capacities in the different investigation agencies. With such capacity building over, our investigators should be able to make effective claims in foreign lands that resources originating in Bangladesh were illegally transferred abroad. Once this is done, there is now international convention to assist Bangladesh in the return of such monies. The Stolen Asset Recovery (STAR) initiative started by the World Bank, in partnership with UNODC will help developing countries recover assets stolen by corrupt leaders. The legal framework underpinning the STAR initiative is UNCAC. 140 countries had signed the convention with 92 ratifying it as of November 2006.


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