Our Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal is a businessman turned politician. He knows business and the businesses.
A chartered accountant by profession, he must be well versed in accounting, and tricks of siphoning money used by rogue politicians, corrupt bureaucrats, and by a section of businesspersons who mint money through unfair practices and dodging the taxmen.
Being a finance minister, he must not be naïve about legal loopholes that encourage looters to siphon money off from Bangladesh to foreign countries considered tax havens, for parking their illicit and tainted wealth.
Everyone in our society knows who they are. Mr Kamal also knows. Then what forced him to pretend and express his ignorance about the launderers? Is it merely political? Can it be called sheer ignorance, or careful aloofness?
Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal on Saturday said he has no idea who is siphoning off money from the country and asked the opposition MPs to provide him with a list of money launderers.
“I don’t siphon off money. I believe you (MPs) also do not. How will I be able to know about those siphoning off money if you do not provide me with a list!” he had said. During the passage of Bankers’ Book Evidence Bill 2021, the minister came under fire by the opposition MPs for his “failure” to stop money laundering. While participating in the discussion on the bill, several opposition MPs alleged that thousands of crores of Taka were siphoned off abroad from the country. The opposition MPs demanded a reply from the finance minister and demanded the formation of a banking commission to look into these matters. In 2020, the Panama Papers named 84 Bangladeshi individuals who siphoned off a sum of multi-billion dollars in foreign countries in the name of offshore banking, and through establishing shell companies in tax haven countries. The country is yet to learn what measures the incumbent government has so far taken against the individuals in question. Is there any fruitful investigation against those persons?
Besides, several reports released by Global Financial Integrity (GFI) in recent years have pinpointed Bangladesh as being one of the countries prone to money laundering, particularly through trade-based illegal activities.
GFI’s President Raymond Baker had said, “Illicit financial flows are the most damaging economic problems faced by the world’s developing and emerging economies.” According to GFI, $61.6 billion were siphoned out of Bangladesh between 2005 and 2014, which is equivalent to 25 per cent of its GDP in FY 2016-17. Between 2008 and 2017, Bangladesh lost a staggering $7.53 billion per year on average to trade misinvoicing, which accounted for 17.95 per cent of Bangladesh’s international trade with all its trading partners during the period, adds the GFI report.
In a more recent report, GFI revealed that $5.9 billion was siphoned out of Bangladesh through trade misinvoicing in 2015, and that Bangladesh is one of the top 30 countries in terms of illicit financial flows.
Similarly, the Transparency International Bangladesh reported in 2020 that some $3.1 billion or Tk 26,400 crore is being illegally remitted from Bangladesh every year. Though it is lower in comparison to the GFI’s estimates between 2008 and 2017, even this amount would have deprived the government exchequer of about Tk 120 billion in revenue each year.
It is the government that must look into the grave issue of money laundering, and find out the culprits. Government offices, watchdog bodies, and the Bangladesh Bank are not run with directions from the opposition MPs.
It is really funny to seek the list of money launderers from opposition lawmakers. Senior bankers often say without the connivance of banks, trade-based money laundering is an absurd proposition. Without fixing the banking sector and customs department, over-invoicing and under-invoicing in export-import trade cannot be checked and minimised.
Plugging loopholes in the public sector procurement, corruption in police and customs along with other corruption-prone government offices will reduce irregularities to some extent.
Improving the law and order situation and governance are two major areas where policymakers have to focus to contain the malpractice of money laundering. When the country becomes corruption-free, obtaining or preparing a list of launderers will be unnecessary.