The extent of the corruption discovered within the Bangladeshi gas supply industry is astonishing even the anti-corruption investigators (see earlier story).
The head of the state-owned Titas Gas Distribution Company has estimated that 80% of his employees (including, as he was obliged to admit, himself) are corrupt - investigators are trying to trace just how many millions have been siphoned off. It is claimed that "almost everyone in the company is a millionaire". Abdul Kader Mollah - salary $100 per month - a former sales assistant, is said to have siphoned off $145 million in 12 years and his assets are thought to be now worth $300 million. But since the allegations were made he has taken out full-page newspaper ads to defend himself and claim he is worth "only" $66 million; all of which, he laughably claims, was gained by simple honest hard work and astute investment.
A recent survey by the Bangladesh chapter of Transparency International revealed that public utility employees were regarded as the most corrupt officials after the police and lower judiciary.
The corruption has operated as a closely woven web at every level, interlinked with the political structures. The meter readers were a key component; they consistently under-read meters and failed to declare a percentage of payments, to the benefit of consumers and employees alike. They often contracted out their meter reading tasks and concentrated on developing their own illegal supply rackets to businesses, factories and homes. Many invested their profits in becoming landlords and factory owners themselves. Some also stood in the last elections - a costly business - hoping to buy themselves a parliamentary seat. To attain such a position would be a sure ticket to accessing plunder on an even bigger scale. Hasina, ex-Prime Minister and still a party leader, is at present on trial for extorting money from the head of an energy company. One can expect in coming months further exposes in public sector organisations such as telephone and water suppliers. There are also rumours that high officials in the present military government are involved in their own scams - but the media are forbidden to mention such things.
All of this in a society where many work for a dollar a day and often have no access to domestic energy supplies. These revelations will be used by the ruling class and their Western 'advisors' to push for an acceleration of privatisation of the country's energy resources and to increase energy exports. The wheeling and dealing surrounding energy extraction by foreign businesses - in accordance with IMF and World Bank directives - is an arena where bribery, uneven profit allocations and political deviousness is not often seen as a problem by those Western interests and local rulers who share a mutual interest in it. For the poor majority, the revelations will only deepen their cynicism and contempt for the ruling class.