Public hearing was found as an effective tool in ensuring transparency and accountability in the public offices and importantly, it creates influential impact on people’s empowerment and create a space to resolve complaints and grievances. Though a significant number of complainers were not provided with answers yet on their complaints, number of resolutions on raised complaints were found impressive. If institutionalized, public hearing can become one of the most effective tool in corruption prevention in public offices as it opens up ways of developing relationship and trust between service providers and service recipients. This observation was made in a TIB study on Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC’s) Public Hearing as a Means of Controlling Corruption: Effectiveness, Challenges and Way Forward.
“Although public hearing creates an immediate impact, it is not possible for ACC alone to monitor all the institutions of the country all the time. To reduce the lack of trust between the service provider and service recipient, internal monitoring and controlling system should be developed in relevant institutions and areas. Besides, ACC should continue organising public hearing with improved capability and enhanced capacity,” said Dr. Iftekharuzzaman, Executive Director of TIB. However, to have real fruition of activity like public hearing, it needs to be institutionalized, he added. Dr. Zaman was addressing a press conference to release the study organised by TIB at its Dhanmondi office on 5 November 2017.
Md. Wahid Alam, Senior Programme Manager and Md. Sahidul Islam, Deputy Programme Manager of Research and Policy (R&P) division of TIB presented the study report at the event. Among others, Professor Dr. Sumaiya Khair, Adviser – Executive Management; Mohammad Rafiqul Hassan, Director, and Md. Rezaul Karim, Programme Manager, of R&P, TIB were present at the event.
In an aim to assess the effectiveness of ACC’s public hearing in controlling corruption, the study highlighted on effectiveness of public hearing in redressing complaints regarding corruption and other irregularities, impacts of public hearing in concerned institutions, challenges of arranging and implementing public hearings.
The released study found an encouraging status regarding responses made by concerned authorities. According to the complainer’s survey, majority of the complainers (78.0%) got commitment or assurance to solve the problems at the time of hearing events. Afterwards, about one third of the complainers (27.2%) said that they got solutions against their commitments. However, more than half of the complaints (59%) were found unsolved. The prevalent types of complaints included bribery, harassment, negligence of duties, fraudulence and unlawful behaviours of by a section of public officials. The survey findings reveal that complainers in 13 public hearings made complaints against diverse institutions and individuals. Majority of the complaints were made relating to institutions and officials involved in land services (67.0%).
All complainers found public hearing as a positive tool for enhancing accountability of public institutions as it created opportunities for making authorities accountable before the public (75.0%) followed by opportunity to raise complaints before officials (69.0%) and promote commitment to solve complaints (20.0%) etc.
The findings of institution survey show that authorities of the concerned institutions had taken certain measures after public hearing for improving the quality of services. Almost all the measures are related to enhancing to transparency, accountability and responsiveness in public services. According to the survey, 77.0 percent of the institutions set up information board after public hearing whereas the percentage before the hearing was 54.0 percent.
The study identified lack of adequate follow up by ACC and concerned institutions for failure of addressing the complaints. Although institutions were found undertaking some encouraging initiatives to improve transparency, accountability and responsiveness in their services, a section of officials were found less responsive to deliver services with commitment and adequate professionalism. Lack of budget, logistics and manpower of the ACC and concerned organisations for arranging public hearing suffer from lack of budget, logistics and manpower.
According to the study, 22.0% complainers could not receive commitment for their solutions. The major reasons for not getting solution of the complaints raised by complainers are non-cooperation from authority (69.0%), demand of unauthorised payment (27.0%), and lack of initiative (24.0%). In this regard, key informants blamed lack of effective process tracking or monitoring by the ACC and concerned authorities.
Among the identified challenges in three different stages of the study, the notables are: Lack of citizen’s awareness on public hearing processes, less about knowledge about services, insufficient publicity, less participation from the marginalized areas, lack of logistics, inadequate human resources and budget allocation, absence of follow up measures, and solutions beyond the jurisdiction of authorities.
As the purview, the study considered 13 public hearings held from December 2015 to June 2016 organised by ACC. Both quantitative and qualitative research techniques were applied where complainers survey and institutions survey were conducted as quantitative technique and the qualitative techniques involved key informant interviews and cases studies.
To enhance effectiveness of public hearing, the study came out with eight points recommendation, of which, the important points are: conduct institution/sector based public hearing; arrange separate public hearing on corruption-prone different institutions and sectors; ensure presence of relevant officials of institutions; ensure solution of the complaints; ensure mechanism to follow up of complaints; allocate budget for public hearing; increased publicity; increase the confidence of complainers etc.