How many bribes does a land office need?
Stories of corruption in land offices are, unfortunately, numerous. Only on Wednesday, the Minister of State for Rural Development and Cooperatives, Swapan Bhattacharjee, revealed at a public meeting in Jashore that he was unable to register land because he had not paid. bribe at the local deputy registrar’s office. As a public official, he said in a video clip that has since gone viral, he kept the story to himself for a week due to his embarrassment over the state of land office services.
Surprisingly, however, he is not the first senior government official to come out the victim of wrongdoing in land offices. Earlier in June, two employees of the Kushtia Deputy Registrar’s office demanded a bribe of Tk 30,000 from Deputy Attorney General (DAG) BM Abdur Rafel for preparing the deeds of his family property. Even after learning his identity, the employees had the nerve to offer him a 5,000 Tk concession instead of withdrawing their corrupt offer. The DAG’s brother had to pay 10,000 Tk to do the job anyway, while one of the two land office workers was then suspended.
For all the latest news, follow the Daily Star’s Google News channel.
If it is about the state of professionalism (or lack of professionalism) displayed by the employees of the land offices towards the civil servants, one can only wonder about the extent of their corruption when it comes to ordinary citizens. In fact, the arrests by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) of Chakaria’s Deputy Registrar and another Cox’s Bazar office worker in April with Tk 642,100 in bribes give us an idea of how many money these people are capable of extorting from the people, and how corruption continues unabated in an environment of inaction – and even complicity – by those responsible.
A report by Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) found that people are forced to pay bribes of Tk 500 to Tk 5 lakh at every stage of the process of obtaining land-related services. One solution is to create a means for land disputes to be dealt with formally, and not informally through local arbitrators or land agents. The digitization effort must also be accelerated to facilitate access to land services and eliminate the scope of intermediate level interventions. But more importantly, the government must make it a priority to take appropriate administrative and legal action against corrupt land office workers. These measures are long overdue and can help create a culture of accountability and transparency in land offices, so that people have hassle-free services.