Mapping corruption

Husham Ahmed June 28, 2010
Ben Myerson once said, “The accomplice to the crime of corruption is frequently our own indifference.” Corruption thrives in those societies where people turn a blind eye to it. It slowly seeps in and eats away the very foundation on which moralities and principles stand, and then a stage comes when it gets difficult to differentiate between right and wrong. The lines of what is acceptable and what is not are drawn and erased so many times that their importance gets diminished. Lee Rainwater has called it ‘patterned evasion of norms’ and in Pakistan it is known as ‘Corruption Culture’.

When we talk about corruption in Pakistan, the emphasis is only laid upon high level corruption, a misconduct that involves powerful ruling elites that can also be in the form of political patronage or nepotism. Recent reports of mismanagement in the contracts of NLC and the alleged kickbacks received in the Agosta subamarine cases are few such examples.

The nemesis of such high level corruption is media exposure, judicial probes and other accountability institutions specifically setup for this purpose. But then there is another very important dimension of corruption – petty corruption – which does not come under spotlight very often. It is the petty corruption that directly affects the common man the most. The point is not to underscore the criminal conduct in which high level officials are involved in, but to highlight the importance of addressing an important dimension of corruption which is often neglected.

Socio-economically unstable people are affected the most in the case of petty corruption and the amounts, though small, are a large percentage of their income. From cradle to grave they have to give extra money to avail basic amenities of life – the services which are supposed to be their basic fundamental rights. From getting driving licenses to registration of vehicles, from accessing health facilities in public hospitals to receiving pension funds at retirement age, everything comes at a price which is determined at the whims and caprice of hungry wolves. No prime time in media is given to these issues. These problems are hardly the subjects of all the fancy debates taking place on our television sets. There are no stats, absolutely no indicators to measure this petty corruption.

Recently, I happened to meet Zubair Bhatti, the former DMG officer who had conceptualized and implemented a model to fight petty corruption in district Jhang with a considerable amount of success. The idea, now called popularly known as the Jhang model, was based on a simple concept. In his district, Zubair passed orders to collect cell numbers of all buyers and sellers involved in land transfer cases. He would then randomly call upon a few to check if the clerks had extorted any bribes from them. The result was a dramatic decrease in incidents which caused grievances to common citizenry. The concept has been picked up by the Punjab government due to the interest shown by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and the efforts are already underway to institutionalize it.

“It removes the disconnect present between the administrator of a district and the residents. The concept signals to a new paradigm shift in a sense that it is the administrative authority that is reaching out to the public and not vice versa. The people no longer have to worry about making complaints, following up on them or getting dragged in everlasting legal proceedings”, Zubair explained.

The concept can be adopted in all other public sectors as well wherever daily transactions are involved. Patients can be called upon to check if they really are getting the promised free medicines in public hospitals in emergency cases. The farmers can be contacted to check if the veterinary officials are visiting their animals. Calls can be made to verify registry details. What was started by one civil servant is now being picked by other officers. Mian Mushtaq, the commissioner of Bhawalpur, is leading the campaign in the field. The DCOs of Narowal, Sialkot and Gujranwala are already making the calls. Soon, this function will be outsourced to a call centre which can even generate text messages to everyone in the list and can make calls to a random few. Institutionalizing this new concept is the next major step which can incorporate other innovations as well.

The aim of this system is not just to identify the culprits but the focus remains on establishing a monitoring system that can act as a deterrent for all corrupt practices. Moreover, an established monitoring system in place will make it exceptionally easy to produce general patterns and eventually map corruption in real time across the country, in different districts, different public sectors and wherever the delivery of public services is involved. The data if made public can lead to more transparency in all public affairs and can help policy makers.

However, a monitoring system will only serve as an initial step towards mapping corruption and transparency. Addressing corruption issues will be a different ordeal. Factors such as low salaries and lack of social benefits play a big role to endorse such practices. There are many other challenges as well, before this system can be adopted on a mass scale. For example, if a text message service system is to be initiated for getting the feedback, it becomes mandatory to run a public awareness campaign using various media campaign, in order to insure maximum participation. The very fact that Pakistan has one of the highest teledensity in the region with almost 100 million cell phone subscribers can play a major role in the success of this model.

Political will, public support and media’s role will be the key factors for the successful implementation and institutionalization of Jhang model. Politicians will get more votes, people will see improvement in basic services, and media will have the chance to reach out to the common man and talk about his issues as well. Khadim Hussain from Haroonabad is one common man who was overwhelmed when commissioner of Bhawalpur called him to check if he had been treated fairly when he came to registry office. It is time now to talk about other Khadim Hussains as well.
Husham Ahmed A public policy consultant and a writer who tweets @hushamahmed and blogs at
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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