Organization: Amar Odhikar Foundation
Location: Dhaka, Bangladesh
Social Mobilization against Corruption at the Grass-Root Level in Bangladesh: The Role of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB)
Since the beginning of the 1990s, many Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and local chapters of International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) started advocacy work to address the severe governance problems of many countries. However, despite their efforts, corruption has been increasing in many countries. Civil society organizations face various constraints on reforming governance in highly corrupt countries. NGOs' capacity to act against corruption depends on the nature of the state, a balance of power between the state and civil society organizations (CSOs), and accountability, legitimacy, representation, and trust of NGOs in the broader society within they are working. The research uses Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) as a case study to understand how a civil society organization can act against corruption in a highly corrupt and seemingly undemocratic state, and it also evaluates the challenges the organization is facing in its anti-corruption initiatives. The research findings show that the impacts of TIB's anti-corruption efforts at the grass roots level in Bangladesh are very limited. Greater effects have not been achieved for some reasons. First, due to lack of political opportunities, TIB developed its anti-corruption programs in such a way that don't challenge the existing power structure and powerful corrupt elites. The root causes of corruption in Bangladesh are inherently political, and it is tough to curb corruption without addressing the underlying causes of corruption. Second, accountability, trust, representation, and legitimacy are significant challenges for foreign-funded NGOs. In Bangladesh, political leaders and bureaucrats severely attack TIB as a ‘foreign agent’ when the organization publishes any reports regarding corruption of any government institutions. They also ask questions regarding TIB's legitimate right to criticize public institutions. Third, almost all of the successful social mobilization against governance reforms is bottom up, and the roles and participation of ordinary citizens are very high in these social movements. However, TIB's anti-corruption initiatives are top-down, and the involvement of ordinary citizens in TIB’s anti-corruption programs is very limited. Committee of Concern Citizens (CCC) and youth volunteers are critical elements of TIB's anti-corruption social mobilization, but they are not selected by the local people based on their leadership qualities, dedication, and closeness to the ordinary citizens. Instead, TIB officials created committees non-political CCCs based on public opinion and newspaper advertisement. As a result, the creation of CCCs and youth volunteers is artificial, and their capacity to mobilize local citizens is low and free rider problem is apparently high. Fourth, the success of any social movements depends on power balance between the state and civil society organizations. It is difficult for civil society groups to force a state to initiate serious governance reforms without the authority to impose sanctions against the government both at the local and national levels. Collaboration and cooperation among civil society organizations are necessary to make them a viable political force. However, TIB failed to create a broad-based alliance with other Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and professional civil society organizations in its anti-corruption initiative at the grassroots level. Due to institutional weakness of the civil society organizations, policy advocacy, and dialogues between the state and civil society is one-sided, and the state can easily avoid the demands of civil society groups without any political costs.