Pakistan’s corruption problem

Published: December 17, 2012

So shameful has been Pakistan’s performance in this field that accountability itself seems like corruption. DESIGN: SAMAD SIDDIQUI

National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chief, Admiral (retd) Fasih Bokhari has said at a press conference in Islamabad that in his estimate, corruption in Pakistan could be Rs10-12 billion a day. Earlier, the NAB had put out a relatively less shocking figure of six to seven billion rupees a day which had upset the cabinet of Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf. The retired admiral has responded to the ire of the politicians by being more blunt. The estimate is notional, of course, derived from another percentage: globally, tax contributes 17-20 per cent of the GDP of a country and since Pakistan collects only nine per cent, the rest must be accounted for as corruption.

Admiral Bokhari has made it clear that his corruption index did not cover ‘indirect losses including the agriculture sector‚ revenue department‚ land grabbing and encroachments‚ loans defaults‚ over-staffing‚ ghost schools, ghost employments‚ wealth tax losses, customs duties and duty drawbacks. This makes the original revelation even graver. The people who indulge in corruption are obviously politicians first of all, then bureaucracy and then the private sector when it comes into contact with the state.

So

The factor of the politicians is significant. When you cut them out, the world detects significant cutback in corruption. During the early days of the General (retd) Pervez Musharraf regime, there was subsidence in the occurrence of graft because his government was still to expand to get him the ‘legitimacy’ he wanted as a ruler. After patterns of corruption get repeated, the people start complaining about it. Their encounter with graft takes place with departments that deal with them: the police, the judiciary, the income tax bureaucracy, the customs, land records, etc. In many cases, at the provincial and federal levels, departments are presided over by politicians as ministers.

Pakistan does take steps to detect and punish corruption. It is, however, not corruption which is Pakistan’s ‘darkest hour’: it is the anti-corruption measures it takes to end corruption. Judging from Pakistan’s efforts during the decade of the 1990s, there should be an article in the constitution banning governments from engaging in accountability. So shameful has been Pakistan’s performance in this field that accountability itself seems like corruption. The PML-N went after the PPP and the PPP went after the PML-N in its turn, till the courts were jammed with cases that came to no meaningful conclusion. A coup de grace to accountability was delivered in 2006, when the two parties apologised to each other for having done hanky-panky in accountability. In fact, the PML-N’s accountability czar sought forgiveness for having victimised the PPP leadership. Cases of money-laundering taking place in foreign courts were inconclusive because of the shadow of illegitimacy of the process inside Pakistan. Imran Khan’s challenge to both the PML-N and the PPP on their properties abroad reveals more about this ‘hidden corruption’.

Third World levels of corruption have been identified and accepted as unavoidable. The noise of corruption in India and China is deafening but no one says they are ‘failing states’ because of corruption. In fact, both are counted as successful in comparison to the ‘no-corruption’ countries in the EU and the US superpower itself. Those who advocate ‘tough accountability’ before the 2013 elections in Pakistan need to reflect a little on the precedents. But that doesn’t mean we should do nothing about the loss of public trust in the NAB and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and other corrupt anti-corruption institutions. First of all, the NAB, FIA and FBR should be constitutionally protected in their powers to take action against offenders. But the catch is that Pakistan’s problem number one is not corruption but law and order and writ of the state. As China and India demonstrate, a country can still be rated ‘successful’ if it has a functioning economy undamaged by a dysfunctional state.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 17th, 2012.

Reader Comments (11)

  • Naresh
    Dec 17, 2012 - 3:18AM

    @Editors :
    .
    Reference the following statement :
    .
    National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chief, Admiral (retd) Fasih Bokhari has said at a press conference in Islamabad that in his estimate, corruption in Pakistan could be Rs10-12 billion a day. Earlier, the NAB had put out a relatively less shocking figure of six to seven billion rupees a day which had upset the cabinet of Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf.
    .
    Let us take both the figures in perspective by taking the lower figure in both cases using a Rough Exchange Rate of US$ One = Pak Rs 100..
    .
    With Pakistan’s Corruption taken at Pak Rs. Ten Billion per day, the sum would amount to US$ 100 Million Per Day.
    .
    In this case the sum in respect of Pakistani Corruption for the Year would be US$ 36.5 Billion.
    .
    With Pakistan’s Corruption taken at Pak Rs. Six Billion per day, the sum would amount to US$ 60 Million Per Day.
    .
    Herein the sum in respect of Pakistani Corruption for the Year would be about US$ 21.9 Billion.
    .
    These are mind boggling figures.
    .
    I would request the views of our Pakistani members.
    .
    Thanks / Cheers

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  • Falcon
    Dec 17, 2012 - 5:18AM

    Good article. However, I think to draw comparisons with India and China in order discount the systemic affects of corruption is not a great idea. Corruption is an economic leakage that takes away resources from the state to provide basic services.India and China have their tax-to-GDP ratio north of 15%, while ours is stuck at about 9%. Secondly, in terms of net size of economy, Chinese economy and Indian economy are much bigger than that of Pakistan and lower tax-to-GDP ratios can still give them enough revenues to maintain basic law and order. We on the other hand, can not afford such high levels of economic leakage.

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  • Falcon
    Dec 17, 2012 - 5:30AM

    @Naresh:
    Thanks for the math. As obvious from your calculation, compared to average levels of corruption of about 5% in emerging markets, we are clocking at more that double the rate (higher than 10% ($22 Bn / year with Pakistan’s official GDP of about $200 Bn). This is simply unsustainable. We have to expect better from our leadership.

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  • Clear Black Bag
    Dec 17, 2012 - 10:53AM

    1-Corruption and Pakistani leadership always go together.
    2-Corruption long live in Pakistan.

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  • Mirza
    Dec 17, 2012 - 11:30AM

    There are several Op Ed and this editorial about corruption in Pakistan. Every time when a general usurped power, mutilated constitution their main argument was corruption by the politicians. Yet in their several decades of dictatorial power they were only interested in killing their political opponents, tame them to join the puppet govt remain in jail or leave the country and let the dictator rule. Not many were actually tried and punished for corruption or tax evasion. Why all of a sudden this talk of corruption once again? Perhaps some have realized that the rightwing has no chance even in the next elections! No such zeal and enthusiasm is seen against the terrorist which is the real problem of the country. I am not saying that corruption is not the problem but that is an ongoing issue and is not killing that many civilians recently.

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  • ishrat salim
    Dec 17, 2012 - 1:32PM

    @Mirza:
    Sitting in your cosy home, your line ” but ( corruption ) is an ongoing issue & is not killing that many civilians recently ” is understandable….yeah ! go & see & ask the people in the street..are they starving more today or before 4.5 years ago..minister of food security has conceded in senate few days back that poverty has increased since 2008 & yet you do not seem to be convinced that ” corruption ” in last 4.5 years has exceeded more than last 60 years – a record that will remain unbroken if this govt is re-elected again….

    the point is ” Corruption with good governance is acceptable, but Corruption with bad governance is not acceptable “…in the past 75% was spent & 25 % was pocketed, this govt spent 10% & pocketted 90%..that is the difference……

    ET pls print as truth must prevail….

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  • abu-uzhur
    Dec 17, 2012 - 8:37PM

    Plundering resources of the state and encashing the bureaucratic positions are deeply ingrained in the psyche of our ruling elite . This was for them the source of rizk-e-halal during the Mughal period . The character of muslim Ashrafia
    is summed up in a line of Ghalib which translates as ” for centuries ,
    soldiering has been the profession of my fore-fathers “. That is plunder , not any craft
    or trade , which were relegated to the lowly Hindu banias .
    The local ruling elite ( lanlords sardars khawaneen waderas ) created /patronised by
    the British was caste into the same mould , that is , encashing the
    political power as the sole source of rizk-e-halal . Not governing , but
    leeching on the state resources was their price in return for loyalty to the British . Governing was retained by the British for themselves .
    We continue the traditions inherited from the Mughal and the British rule. We have wrongly put the label “corruption” on time-honored share of ruling elites in state exchequer .Recommend

  • Mirza
    Dec 17, 2012 - 8:44PM

    Nobody has taught us to add dirty water in milk, make fake medicines, and sell adulterated food and baby medicines. We continue to hear that Punjab is the best governed province. This means 65% of Pakistani population is doing fine? More than half of the budget is spent on defense and debt servicing. That leaves very little for public needs. If corruption takes 90% then where does the defense and debt servicing is paid?
    There are problems with poverty, healthcare, education and civic needs. However, the number one problem is and it is increasing and gaining momentum everyday is terrorism. We can continue to ignore elephant in the room or do something about it. I for one want to be on record that we have worst problem of terrorism in this country.

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  • Farooq
    Dec 18, 2012 - 3:03PM

    it is so shame full for us,that we always stood first in all negative and a drift in positive and don’t think about our country,feature and nation even for our next generation.we are not serious about our problem particularly our leaders, instead to solve the problem but they are trying to divide the nation in nationalism just to get their political goals ,our society has become the center of every evil.we always blame on super power but didn’t serious to take action against all these evils, didn’t try to change ourselves, our society and political style.If we want to stood in a developing country of the world,we must work for our country instead to get personal or political benefit.when our leaders leave the fringe benefit politics our country will become the most developed country of the world

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  • Dec 22, 2012 - 4:50PM

    Assalamu alaikum! First of all i would like to say that Pakistan is facing a plethora of Social and economic problems for last few decades and is now at 33th position in the list of more corrupt countries and it will continue to worst if pragmatic approach is not adopted to deal corrupt bandits and macho man in the country . There has been an uproar of corruption especially in years beyond Military Government. The major players of this game are corrupt politicians who always have been busy in fulfilling their bellies for their own benefits in the name of nation. Instead of playing blame game we need to focus on our future plans to curb this Corruption. we need to make institutions like NAB , FIA and other agencies active and those agencies need to be protected constitutionally and independent so that they can play their roles effectively to cuff the hands of these bulldogs. Otherwise It is impossible by any means to cut down corruption. secondly the corrupt person should be given strict punishments. these institutions must be completely out of influence of politics.Recommend

  • Dec 22, 2012 - 4:54PM

    Pakistan is facing a plethora of Social and economic problems for last few decades and is now at 33th position in the list of more corrupt countries and it will continue to worst if pragmatic approach is not adopted to deal corrupt bandits and macho man in the country . There has been an uproar of corruption especially in years beyond Military Government. The major players of this game are corrupt politicians who always have been busy in fulfilling their bellies for their own benefits in the name of nation. Instead of playing blame game we need to focus on our future plans to curb this Corruption. we need to make institutions like NAB , FIA and other agencies active and those agencies need to be protected constitutionally and independent so that they can play their roles effectively to cuff the hands of these bulldogs. Otherwise It is impossible by any means to cut down corruption. secondly the corrupt person should be given strict punishments. these institutions must be completely out of political influence.Recommend

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