Why anti-corruption agencies matter — Part 1

Muhammad Imtiaz Tajwar, deputy chair of Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau

Anti-corruption agencies (ACAs) are not new. They first started appearing in the 1950s, and in Asia Pacific alone, more than 42 were started between 1952 and 2016. Their success depends on a large number of factors. Transparency International recently reviewed six agencies in Asia Pacific and presented the findings at a conference in Bangkok in October.

At the time we took the opportunity to sit down with Muhammad Imtiaz Tajwar, deputy chair of Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau and Iqbal Mahmood, chair of the Bangladesh Anti-Corruption Commission to ask them a few questions about the importance of ACAs and the role of civil society.

In the first of two articles, we start with our conversation with Deputy Chairman Muhammad Imtiaz Tajwar from Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau.

Transparency International (TI): What do you see as the most important role of an anti-corruption agency (ACA)?

Muhammad Imtiaz Tajwar (MIT): The most important role of an anti-corruption agency of any country is to make a difference to reduce corruption and create a state which is corruption-free. A key part of this is seeking support from the public and from other government organisations.

TI: What are your biggest challenges?

MIT: The challenges are huge. The first is to improve the ACA’s image whilst creating an atmosphere that is opposed to corruption. Then, through the three-prong strategy of awareness, prevention and enforcement to bring areas up to a corruption-free level. Another challenge is to not spare anyone who is involved in corruption.

TI: How much political interference do you get?

MIT: Let me put it this way: when one is in the deep sea, one faces killer sharks and friendly sharks, so the challenge is to nab the dangerous ones, but this can be very difficult. You need to create the right impression and environment for ACA staff — investigators and prosecutors — because once you are nabbing the killer sharks the safety and security of your staff are at stake. So by providing them with security we enable them to function freely.

TI: Do you think ACAs are an effective way of fighting corruption?

MIT: If I say I’m doing wonderful things, I’ll be living in a fool’s paradise. It’s important to have an outsider’s view of our work to understand our merits and short-comings, so we can improve. We regularly find the views from civil society organisations quite encouraging, but we know we have to improve further and with their assistance we’re trying to reach the best level.

TI: What is the role of civil society organisations like Transparency International in supporting ACAs?

MIT: Their mere presence is enormous. They have given us a number of clues that have assisted our investigations. And as we’re a complaint driven organisation, seeking an outside view always helps us. Transparency International is playing a great role. Today our ranking as an ACA is quite high and that is partly because of the help and support of Transparency International. I hope to have further strong collaboration with them in future.