Last week, a son of the Capital Development Authority was caught on videotape verbally abusing and intimidating a woman and her son. Amid the furore over the incident, another transgression was overlooked: that the son was misusing his father’s official car. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) revealed on May 9 that bureaucrats were misusing the benefits system by using official vehicles and then also collecting the monthly allowance they are allowed to receive if they do not use government cars. We hear a lot about the corruption of our elected leaders but the bureaucrats may be even worse. Their corruption is far more systemic and their underhand practices are rarely brought to the public’s attention. What they see as a creative way to add to their already considerable benefits is actually causing losses in billions of rupees to the exchequer.
Now that the PAC has revealed this abuse by bureaucrats, it is incumbent on the body to take strict action. The first step it should take is to name and shame those who are taking advantage of the benefits system and then haul them before parliament. A simple warning is not enough. Those found guilty are no better than common thieves and so they should be treated as criminals. Firing them is an option or, at the very least, they should be suspended from their jobs without pay for a significant period. This should hopefully deter others from taking undue advantage at the expense of the taxpayers.
But only taking action against individuals will not suffice. The PAC also needs to look at how such abuse is made possible. That means exploring corruption at a structural level. It should not be so easy to double-charge the government for benefits. That so many bureaucrats were able to do so for so long means that it is the entire system that is rotten. Rather than being seen as the crime that it is, such corruption is merely winked and nodded at. What is needed is reform of a system where taxpayers’ money is casually divided up by greedy government workers. Simple audits are not enough; the entire culture of government will have to be overhauled.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2012.
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