All of us are corrupt... for a reason

People are forced to indulge in corruption because their businesses or commitments would not move forward otherwise.

Asad Badruddin November 16, 2010
Corruption screams across headlines almost daily in this land of the pure. From Pakistani cricket scandals, to dubious land allotments we’ve all become very frustrated with corruption in our daily lives. However, many times the debate about corruption in the media is highly simplistic and revolves around slogans of ‘the government should get rid of corruption!’ By highlighting some interesting perspectives, I aim to show corruption from a different lens.

Corruption has two broad aspects to it: the first kind is attributed to man’s inherent evil nature. Man has impulses within him that long for power, wealth and fame. The temptation to succumb to greed is mentioned in secular, Christian, and Islamic traditions. The second acknowledges that corruption is institutional- people don’t want to be corrupt but are forced to indulge in corruption because their businesses, commitments, or work would not move forward otherwise. In order to get your land permits you have to pay for the relevant bureaucrat’s chai.

That is the general idea, however in Pakistan’s context two more issues need to be mentioned to get a better sense of corruption.

The first case: we love our friends and family and would do anything for them. Now you might think, why in the world is this a bad thing? Amid our great moral and social decay isn’t this the one thing we can be proud of?

We have a tendency to value bonds of family and friendship over state institutions. We will ring up our contacts in the bureaucracy and the government to help a friend cut a few lines, get through some paperwork, or get that driver’s license that you don’t want to go give the test for.

I scratch your back: We don’t think of this as corruption, but rather as us being good friends. But we are in fact undermining the very system we hope to empower. This ‘norm’ then seeps its way into our government- it is hard for our government leaders to dispose of corrupt officials because they are friends with them or they are related to them. Our cultural values of looking out for our friends makes this “special treatment” acceptable, however we fail to recognize this as corruption- only using the term to describe the actions of people/government officials we disagree with.

Who doesn't need a little petty cash: The second problem is more structural and it relates to campaign financing. Political parties need funds to run campaigns and win elections. Obama spent $57 million in the August before the national election in the US- a truly staggering amount. Obama’s strategy was particularly innovative because he relied on donations from the general public for his campaign, and even small amounts of donations multiplied because of the sheer number of people contributing. Parties in Pakistan cannot muster such resources through public donations because of the middle class’s cynicism with the political process. Usually a section of individual wealth is used to fund such enterprises. These funds are used to pay party workers, party think tanks and volunteers who work for the party’s campaigns during election time.

The party dilemma: In Pakistan, parties tend to offset this by promising jobs to party workers, if and when they come into power. This may also be the reason why public corporations in Pakistan are so inefficient- they serve as places to put party workers as opposed to running alongside purely economically efficient lines. The management of parties today is disorganized, lacking in ideological cohesion, and unimaginative in fund-raising efforts. As a result parties have to resort to shortcut measures such as putting their own people in over-bloated private sector enterprises.

Dealing with both these dilemmas is tricky. The first requires individual courage and faith, courage to point out that friends and/or family could be doing the wrong thing and having faith in the relationship to trust that it can survive such disappointments. The second one is linked to political parties needing to be more innovative in their approach to organizing party lines and mobilizing the much neglected middle class. If groups feel their interests are being looked after they will support parties not just politically by voting for them, but also financially, so that parties do not have to make immoral and inefficient decisions when they get back into power. Both these problems don’t necessarily tell the entire story of corruption but nevertheless provide a specific set of problems that we can target and hopefully remedy.
Asad Badruddin A student of economics and international relations at Tufts University in Boston who hails from Karachi. He blogs at
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Siddhartha | 13 years ago | Reply Most of the communities in India (such as Bengali), are succumbed in 'Culture of Poverty'(a theory introduced by an American anthropologist Oscar Lewis), irrespective of class or economic strata, lives in pavement or apartment. Nobody is at all ashamed of the deep-rooted corruption, decaying general quality of life, worst Politico-administrative system, weak mother language, continuous absorption of common space (mental as well as physical, both). We are becoming fathers & mothers only by self-procreation, mindlessly & blindfold. Simply depriving their(the children) fundamental rights of a decent, caring society, fearless & dignified living. Do not ever look for any other positive alternative behaviour (values) to perform human way of parenthood, i.e. deliberately co-parenting of those children those are born out of ignorance, real poverty. All of us are being driven only by the very animal instinct. If the Bengali people ever be able to bring that genuine freedom (from vicious cycle of 'poverty') in their own life/attitude, involve themselves in 'Production of Space’(Henri Lefebvre), at least initiate a movement by heart, decent & dedicated Politics will definitely come up. - Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay, 16/4, Girish Banerjee Lane, Howrah-711101, India.
Ali Gulsher Siddiqi | 13 years ago | Reply Very insightful and analyses the particular kind of corruption rampant in Pakistan...a solution to the problem can only come after the problem has been properly identified like you have done
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