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Corruption in Pakistan

Causes, Repercussions and Solutions

Good governance flourishes in a situation that is necessarily corruption-free. Pakistan is unfortunately way down on the ladder on this account. Our society is facing a very grave problem of corruption since long and it is rampant to such an extent that the very basic foundations of our society have been shaken. It’s a cancer that has gobbled up all the socio-economic prospects of development. Corruption of all magnitudes — mega, moderate and petty — permeates all tiers of governance and all segments of the society may it be public, private, political, judicial, commercial or even religious. Since corruption is authority plus monopoly minus transparency, it severely impacts the life of the citizens through lesser returns on resource use and adds manifold to their cost of living.

Corruption that is defined by the Transparency International as the “abuse of entrusted power for private gain” because “it hurts everyone who depends on the integrity of people in a position of authority” is a universal curse and exists in all the countries as a common phenomenon, both in developing or poorer countries and developed countries. The difference is only of the degrees of corruption. It is unfortunately endemic in Pakistan as well. No structure, no tier and no office of public sector is immune from it as it has affected every organ of state and has put its claws even on judiciary and legislature. It would be no exaggeration to say that the whole body of the state of Pakistan is suffering from this malaise and is wailing under its dead weight. So enormous is its incidence that Pakistan is ranked 126th in Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2014. Though this ranking is up a notch from last year’s ranking of 175 countries, it is still not, at all, enviable or even acceptable.

The roots of corruption in Pakistan date back to the colonial period when the British rewarded lands and titles to those who were their loyalists leading to nepotism and corruption. Two major crises played a fundamental role in the genesis of corruption in this part of the world; the spiral in the defence related purchases during and after the World War II, and allotment of evacuee property after the partition of Indian Subcontinent. This was followed by industrial and trade licensing and patronage schemes. Bhutto’s nationalization policy of the 1970s also created opportunities for corruption and gave birth to a new breed of corrupt government officers. The decade of 1980s witnessed the surge of corruption in religious and business circles. Serious attempts at accountability originating in mid 1990s and fortified on the turn of the century farcically turned into tools of political patronage or victimization.

Today, a more disturbing and distressing fact is that over the period acceptability of corruption has increased in the society and at present the situation has deteriorated and people seldom feel guilty about their own role in corruption. It is so because corruption provides options to even those who lack power, and empowers them to rise above their circumstance. Put another way, corruption empowers as it allows people to buy the power they can exercise for their own benefit.

In Pakistan, the scale of corruption is highest in development projects and procurements including even defence and public sector corporations, and the bank loan write-offs. Whereas mega corruption is mainly in development projects, bank loans and procurements which rock the foundation of the economy, the common man is more interested in the petty and middle level corruption that he encounters in the daily dealings in the government offices.

Candidly, corruption is simply a cold and calculated theft of an opportunity from the segment of society that is least able to protect itself. This menace continues to lurk where opacity rules. Moreover, evils such as fraud, forgery, dishonesty, and other malpractices which are harmful for the society come under the umbrella of corruption. Although it has wide-ranging deleterious effects on society and governance, it’s most deadly impact is always on the poor. It undermines democracy, hinders good governance and weakens democratic institutions. It hampers economic growth and sustainable development. When countries improve governance and reduce corruption, they reap a “development dividend.

The causes of this malady are to be found in the socio-cultural and political matrix of the Pakistani society which presently is faced with a gradual loss of value system and even identity. The causes of corruption are multidimensional. Among them, no punishment and “soft forgiving” culture for the corrupt individuals is the most preeminent. Unfortunately, in our country, corruption is considered as the low-risk and high-reward activity. Those involved in corruption are generally not caught. If, caught they are not punished in most cases due to the “soft forgiving” culture in our country or they go scot free due to ‘lack of evidence’. If the corrupt people are punished befittingly, then corruption would not penetrate in the Pakistani society.

Moreover, ambiguous and dubious practices have also marred the prospects of transparency. Non-disclosure of information is also promoting corruption in our country. If people do not know about the things which take place behind the closed door, then corruption will grow and prosper without any bounds. This is due to this evil that the Pakistanis innocently and unknowingly elect the same crooked politicians time and again.

Besides, the poor judicial infrastructure and improper prosecution is also one of the main reasons of soaring corruption. Unfortunately, our flawed judicial system has never inspired confidence among the people that the looters of public money and those misusing power shall be brought to book. Due to malpractices of the officials, on the other hand, it becomes virtually impossible for prosecutors to prove allegations against the corrupt. In most of the cases of corruption, the records are tempered with and it results in the acquittal of the accused. Further, the mechanism of judiciary is also not praiseworthy due to its inefficiency in the disposal of cases. For instance, the former chief minister of Sindh, Syed Abdullah Shah, was proved guilty of corruption years after his death.

Tax evasion and culture of writing off loans is also responsible for the growth of this canker worm of our society. A taxpayer is loyal to his country because he serves the interests of the state. As Ronald Reagan said:

“The tax payer — that’s someone who works for the federal government but does not have to take the civil services examination.”

Sadly, in Pakistan most people, including our rulers, do not pay taxes. A report from a study entitled “Representation without Taxation” by investigative journalist Umar Cheema said: “According to the findings, President Asif Ali Zardari did not file a tax return in 2011 and neither did 34 of the 55 cabinet members including Interior Minister Rehman Malik. Of the 20 cabinet ministers who did pay, most made only negligible contributions, including Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, with 142,536 rupees ($1,466) and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar with 69,619 rupees ($716). The cabinet member who paid the most was state minister for commerce, Abbas Khan Afridi, who paid 11.5 million rupees last year ($118,677). Religious Affairs Minister Syed Khurshid Ahmed Shah paid the least with 43,333 rupees ($446).”

According to the report, more than 60 per cent of Pakistan’s cabinet and two-thirds of its federal lawmakers paid little or no tax during that year, despite an estimated average net wealth of $882,000.

Are these appalling figures justifiable in any way for the so-called system of democracy in Pakistan and its people? Is this not a shameful revelation for the Pakistani public who votes them into power and then depends on them for lawmaking, and even a bigger embarrassment in the eyes of the nations whom we go back to begging for loans?

In Pakistan the tax evasion ratio is so high that less than 1 million people are paying tax in the population of nearly 200 million. This has brought Pakistan equal to Afghanistan in tax-to-GDP ratio.

A true leadership is necessary for a nation as water for a plant because this is the leader who guides the people according to the circumstances. Once a reporter asked from Nelson Mandela; what is the difference between leader and politician. He replied that leader thinks about the next generation while the politician only thinks about the next election. This maxim is really fit in the case of Pakistan. We do not have any such leader who sets examples for the masses to follow. A leaderless nation always involves in corruption.

Poor governance is another cause of corruption in Pakistan. There is no concept of rule of law and only rule of individual is ubiquitous. This is the poor governance which leads to the acquittal of many culprits.

Paradoxically, nowadays people are more influenced by the materialistic approach than the religious or ethical teachings. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said:

“Beware of bribery for verily it is sheer infidelity, and the briber will not even smell the fragrance of Paradise.”

But, how saddening is the fact that we have forgotten this lesson. This is religion and ethics which guide an individual in his course of life. But today people hardly care about the religious edifices as they want to earn money as much as they can. Gone are the days when corrupt elements faced social boycott by the rest of the society.

As far as its effects are concerned, corruption lowers economic development and undermines poverty alleviation. The social contract obligates that the state should provide an environment where people can realise their full potential. Corruption scuttles the level of revenues which consequently reduce the capacity of the state to fund basic social services.

Corruption also affects targeting of social programmes. If corrupt practices are pervasive, leakages in such programmes will usually be high. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the money allocated for various social spending and poverty alleviation programmes have not reached the intended targets. A substantial percentage of such funding was squandered away during the process of distribution. Further, targeting of the poor was riddled with nepotism and patronage.

Corruption also enhances the operating costs of the government and reduces the resources available for social spending. The budget for the health and education sectors gets squeezed. It is an open secret now that the major chunk of the funds allocated for development of infrastructure like roads, schools and hospital buildings is eaten into by corruption in the form of commissions and kickbacks by the engineers, contractors and construction companies. And so corruption undermines development, deepens poverty and exacerbates other human rights violations.

Corruption can also violate human rights directly. If a corrupt judge takes a bribe to decide a case against an individual or a corrupt police officer takes a bribe not to properly investigate, that corruption directly violates human rights like the right to a fair trial. Corruption can manifest itself as the worst abuse of human dignity and rights.

Corruption also impedes Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) which is so badly needed to generate economic activity, create employment, and support the dwindling foreign exchange reserves. The world economic forum’s Global Competitiveness Report (2007-08) identified corruption as the 3rd biggest problem for companies doing business in Pakistan, after government bureaucracy and poor infrastructure.

The corruption cycle is really vicious, to say the least. Rampant corruption in tax and customs and excise collection and costly public sector purchases, and inefficient major public sector entities like PIA, Railway, Steel Mills, etc. cause a major deficit for the government every year in term of resource generation and expenditure that makes the government borrow from IMF and other foreign and domestic resources, and it through increased debt repayments broadens the gap and compels the government to increase the price of the utilities like electricity, gas, CNG and petroleum products. That takes a heavy toll on the people of Pakistan. Resultantly, corruption which is done at far away and much higher places from the common citizens has a direct and deep impact on their lives. Thus, act of corruption, whether direct or indirect, close or remote, is not innocuous for common man.

Corruption also undermines democracy and good governance. It erodes the legitimacy of the government and democratic values. It also makes the loss of international trust. On one hand, we are the victim of terrorism and on the other, of the overcrowded market of corruption. The rampant corruption is also jeopardizing the development works in the country. The funds are not used for the welfare of the people and are only found in the pockets and in the bank accounts of the crooked politicians. Due to this apathy, people are deprived of hospitals, schools, roads, etc. Furthermore, relief work also comes to halt as witnessed in recent floods

Now solutions, if to be implemented the reign of corruption can come to an end.

Corruption is not a problem that can be attacked in isolation. It is not sufficient for the criminal law to search for bad apples and punish them. Of course, the state may need to establish credibility by punishing highly visible corrupt officials, but the goal of such prosecutions is to attract notice and public support, not solve the underlying problem. Following suggestions can be helpful in achieving a corruption-free Pakistan.

Firstly, there must be transparency.

Secondly, information of funds’ amount and disbursement time must be publicized.

Thirdly, media should play the role of a watchdog.

Fourthly, accountability must be ensured. Because in the absence of credible and independent accountability mechanism, there is no effective means to deal with the endemic malaise of corruption.

Fifthly, rule of law must be ensured.

Sixthly, legislation should be done on the laws which provide shelter to the offenders.

Seventhly, education should be used as a medium to make people aware about their rights and duties.

Eighthly, reforms must be brought to fix the genuine problems. It is like renovating and reinforcing the foundations of a building which is about to collapse when the termite of corruption is done away with. Then, new and wide avenues of progress and prosperity are opened.

If this society is to be saved and the country has to shake off the tag of a failing or failed state, urgent and stringent measures need to be taken. A host of measures are needed to eradicate this menace. The awareness in the general public and emergence of a strong civil society, vociferous media and an independent judiciary all by themselves stand as a guarantee to the success of any future programme of accountability.

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