(AFP) – May 26, 2008
DHAKA (AFP) — Bangladesh's emergency government said Monday it will set up a corruption 'truth commission' that would allow businessmen and politicians to avoid going to jail if they confess and refund the money.
The Voluntary Disclosure of Information Ordinance, which was approved late Sunday, runs for a period of five months, the army-backed government said.
"Anyone can take this opportunity of clemency if he makes voluntarily disclosures about his ill-gotten wealth," the government said.
The new commission, aimed at clearing a massive backlog of corruption cases, comes as the government, which came to power in January 2007, faces a self-imposed deadline of late 2008 to hold new elections.
The truth commission will be headed by a retired senior government officer, an ex-army general or supreme court justice, the government said.
Politicians or businessmen who admit to corruption would be barred from contesting elections for five years as well as seats on boards in any public limited company, bank or financial institution.
The commission was announced after government officials said it would take years or decades to try the hundreds of people arrested during a nationwide anti-graft crackdown launched in February last year.
Among those detained are more than 150 prominent figures, including two ex-premiers who head the country's major parties.
The government has already sentenced dozens of former ministers, lawmakers and their family members to between five and 20 years in jail under the new fast-track anti-graft laws.
Those already charged with or convicted of graft cannot be tried under the new truth commission laws, meaning dozens of ministers and ex-premiers will be excluded.
Syed Anisul Haq, a lawyer who drafted the truth commission laws, said the body was needed because Bangladesh would never be able to prosecute everyone.
"So far, the response we have is great. A lot of top figures accused of corruption would seize the opportunity with both hands and take refuge of the law to get mercy," he said.
"It will ease the pressure off the courts because it is impossible to try all these cases in a short period of time," he added.
He said the commission would also boost the economy since some top businessmen accused of graft have stopped investing in the country.
The emergency government has arrested dozens of businessmen who had close ties with the previous governments during the corruption crackdown. Many others suspected of graft have fled the country.
The International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank have said the crackdown has contributed to the slowing of Bangladesh's economic growth to around 5.5-6.0 percent from a projected seven percent in the year ending June.
In the previous year, the economy grew a record 6.5 percent.
Bangladesh is rated one of the world's most corrupt countries by business watchdog Transparency International. It topped the ranking for five consecutive years earlier this decade.
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