ACC’s Archimedean principle of fantasy

padma5THE Anti-Corruption Commission recently reminded us of Dr. Seuss, the American writer, poet and cartoonist who said that fantasy is a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. After 20-month-long investigation, the corruption watchdog tells us it couldn’t find any foul play in the Padma Bridge project. It also tells us it had no proof that the five top government officials had used their false freedom fighter certificates to take any financial advantage. ACC also cleared one lawmaker of charges brought against him for amassing illegal wealth, and it is supposedly on the way to do the same thing for a former minister as well. There must be some element of fantasy somewhere in these serial exonerations. Somebody is looking through the wrong end of his telescope.

Up until now, ACC has been working like a washing machine. Dirty laundries are going in and coming out squeaky clean. There’s a twist of irony that exonerates the organization itself. How can it find dirt on people, if they’re so immaculate! Thus, it must have been that someone inside the World Bank or the Canadian police pulled a fast one to embarrass Bangladesh. Jealous colleagues must have conspired to undermine the certificate-abusing bureaucrats. Lawmakers and ministers are like fruit-laden trees that are expected to get pelted by every frivolous Tom, Dick and Harry.

It shouldn’t bother us that ACC is getting so many people off the hook. Instead, we must take it in the spirit of Blackstone’s formulation that it’s better for ten guilty people to walk free than for one innocent person to be convicted. But what should definitely bother us is the telescope. We should worry as to who’s looking through that sophisticated instrument and how he’s doing it.

Because, there’s a parallax gap between the two sides looking through its two ends. What we think isn’t how they think. What we see isn’t how they also see. Why should the Canadian court insist on prosecuting some people if there has been no corruption in the bridge project? Why can’t ACC file cases against those bureaucrats? The sheer fact of submitting fake certificates gives sufficient ground to yank those men straight to jail.

Nobel Prize winning Portuguese author José Saramago writes that blindness is a private matter between a person and the eyes with which he or she was born. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been our concern if the ACC men were star gazing through their telescope or spying on a neighbor’s window. But it matters to us because we don’t know which between their views and our views are causing the distortions.

These distortions are critical because they’re compounding the dilemma in the heart of this nation. It’s the dilemma of doublespeak, which uses euphemism to disguise truth. George Orwell mentions four ministries in “Animal Farm”, which are the manufactories of doublespeak. For example, the Ministry of Love tortures people in Room 101 and the Ministry of Truth overwrites history and disseminates lies. Again, the Ministry of Peace creates war and the Ministry of Plenty concerns itself with rationing of goods.

Likewise, does ACC smack of doublespeak? Is it fighting corruption or fostering it? It occasionally finds people guilty and takes them to court. But why is it mostly the opposition politicians while the ruling coelacanths escape the net?

It’s possible that ACC has the big picture and we’re looking through the wrong end of the telescope. But somehow the public perception is gaining ground that ACC, like any other watchdog in the country, is behaving like a lapdog. Bangladesh Bank is struggling to control bank frauds, SEC doesn’t have a grip on stock market manipulation, mobile courts can’t stop food adulteration, BIWTA dithers on launch capsizes, BRTA falters over traffic condition, and courts clamber over corruption and political interference to carry out justice. The list can go on, which in a nutshell tells us that all our levers of control are spinning out of control.

That explains why this country is divided into two distinct halves. The rulers like to see what they believe and the people like to believe what they see. In this bizarre republic of disturbing democracy, the government and the people don’t complement but compete with each other.

In Saramago’s novel “Blindness” an unexplained mass epidemic afflicts nearly everyone in an unnamed city and people start losing their vision. It causes widespread panic and the social breakdown swiftly follows. The government attempts to contain the apparent contagion and resorts to increasingly repressive and inept measures.

This is where the telescope is responsible for the turmoil. ACC made that connection more poignant last week when its decisions disappointed people. Akin to Archimedean principle, ACC is cultivating a fantasy that creates truth equal to the weight of truth displaced by it.

Mohammad Badrul Ahsan: The writer is the Editor of weekly First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star. Email:


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