Multi-pronged approach needed to root out corrupt practices
National Accountability Bureau (NAB), along with other state institutions, is pushing hard to process the cases and references on corruption. The case related to overseas properties acquired through apparently ill-gotten wealth by a former prime minister and his family has been decided by a court. Speedy action has been initiated against another top politician related to money laundering. Recent Supreme Court verdicts on real estate cases of a property tycoon also indicated malpractices of very high proportions.
The question is whether corruption only relates to amassing wealth through illegal means. It is common observation that corruption exists in many forms. In usual terms, corruption is perceived as a financial ailment that is mirrored in the form of bribery, extortion, bungling of public-funds, overspending and cooking the books. A cursory look at the present state of affairs shows that abuse of power, inappropriate decision-making and fiddling with administrative/legal structure for self-interests or political gains are far more damaging types of corruption that continue to destroy the moral edifice of the society. The old adage, ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’ is not without sound logic. There are many examples in our recent past which can help us understand this scenario.
Observations have shown that corruption in certain sectors affect common people the most. Planning and development of physical infrastructure, routine construction practices, systems of law and order enforcement, lower level judicial procedures, pricing controls, hoarding of bulk consumables, land ownership and transfer issues, matrimonial registration and dissolution, water management, power distribution and billing, piracy and copy right matters, education (admission and assessment), access to healthcare facilities and many other are all areas that are completely marred by malpractice and corruption.
The fallout of corruption on the usual human behaviour has been complex. A sizable number of people, including government functionaries, now consider corruption as an accepted norm of life. Many folks consider raising voice against corruption a futile exercise, taking it as just another way of going about life. Success stories in dealing with corruption are few. It is pertinent to look at corruption from a scientific perspective.
Pakistan ranks 117 out of 180 countries in transparency. It remains below India and China but above Iran and Afghanistan. The situation cannot improve until and unless solid measures are taken by the decision makers. The incoming government shall have to take concrete steps at all levels of governance. According to one researcher on the subject, if the government simply applies all the existing laws, rules and procedures, a drastic change can be achieved.
Many institutions are already in place. They need capacity building and authority to work independently. Public Account Committees comprising elected representatives, office of Auditor General and internal scrutiny / audit mechanisms can help eradicate corruption to a great extent.
The second step that is needed is to enable and encourage whistle blowers to identify and report corruption without fear. Whistle blowing is defined as an act of anonymous reporting of corruption to the concerned authority. In many countries, including India, whistle blowing is legally safeguarded.
The third step is the creation and promotion of social images of related people, especially the high ups. One finds that the most corrupt of leaders and functionaries are projected as heroes. This approach needs a thorough review. The process of investigation and fact finding must be structured in an objective and sincere manner where all the concerned parties need to be neutrally heard. It seldom happens. The inquiries and action are based on selective justice, usually leaving the big fish in the pond.
Many departments created in the past such as the erstwhile Ehtesab Bureau or the present National Accountability Bureau have been criticised for witch-hunting of politicians. Imprisonment and sudden release as well as plea-bargains with corrupt persons raise eyebrows. The current happenings in the arena of politics are glowing examples. State institutions like the judiciary and military must keep their ranks and conduct absolutely clean and transparent. Above all, frugality is a virtue that should be promoted.
Sizable feedback can be drawn from scientifically structured organisations. Transparency International (TI) has a useful presence in Pakistan. This non-government organisation works closely with the corporate sector. Local and national chamber of commerce and industry networks can develop partnership with TI to maintain corruption-free operations. United Nations Global Compact, World Economic Forum Partnering Against Corruption Initiative (PACI), International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC), International Chamber of Commerce, Anti-Corruption Commission and many other non-state initiatives have very useful guidelines to offer with respect to public and private sector functioning. We also need to involve watchdog organisations that oversee sectoral performances from the perspective of corruption and abuses.
The World Bank has outlined corruption as a major area of action and research. In the changing globe, there will be no long term survival if the issue of corruption is not dealt with.
By: Dr Noman Ahmed