Whose country is this anyways? (Part III)
Govt officials are buying SUVs and hunting endangered species of animals; can we forgive corruption so easily?
Corruption is the one word that explains government failure, greed, misallocation of public resources, abuse of power and undeserving state patronage.
However, depending on who is involved, the degree of condemnation varies, which is a curious anomaly in what should be outright condemnation and a clear recognition of right from wrong.
A dog’s life
Recent reports have suggested that Pakistan’s Defence Ministry is demanding Rs1.66 billion to establish a National Canine Centre to train dogs. 3,260 dogs are to be trained over a period of 10 years, which works out to Rs2.7 million per dog. The army already manages a well regarded dog-training centre in Westridge, Rawalpindi, therefore the need for such an allocation is questionable at a time when the PSDP is being cut to a depressing Rs100 billion for the current year.
Even so, the utility of such a project cannot be denied, and neither can the necessity. Dogs play a valuable role in security, sniffing out drugs and explosives and rescue operations What can be criticised is how the outlay of expenses is presented and justified. Within the project, the need for 15 brand new land cruisers is in poor taste. If the public is to finance such a project, those who demand resources should at the very least, make efforts to keeps expenses to the minimum.
A man and the people’s castle
Moving from canines to humans, a Mr Yusuf reportedly sought and received permission to hold his son’s nikkah at the Lahore Fort, which also happens to be a World Heritage Site. In the process of hosting the wedding function the state shunned Pakistan’s responsibility to international agreements and domestic legislation. Further, the law regulating the provision of one-dish servings was broken at an event attended by legislators themselves, and the police at the people’s expense provided high security for the benefit of the noteworthy guests.
In a country, where many people depend on loan sharks to raise dowry and wedding expenses for their children, such cases of state-sanctioned opulence can diplomatically be described as disgusting.
A train to nowhere
Pakistan Railways recently announced that average fares would rise by 30 per cent. As poor people consume a higher proportion of rail services, they will bear the brunt of the steep fare increase.
Why does PR have to raise fares? Well reportedly, it is trying to avert bankruptcy. But why is it nearing bankruptcy? Because the state and those who have been appointed to head the organisation have literally run it aground.
Such appointees include the former Mister for Railways, Lt General Javed Ashraf Qazi, former Secretary and Chairman Railways Lt General Saeeduz Zafar, ex-General Manager Railways Hamid Hassan Butt and former Secretary Railways Khursheed Alam Khan. They have contributed to the lease of Railways Land to Royal Palm Golf and Country Club at nominal rates. This period also saw the purchase of Chinese railway carriages that were later found to be unfit for use.
Rail commuters will be happy to know that the former heads of PR are apparently going to get away with not even a slap on their wrists. The former Railways Minster, now Senator, Lt General Javed Ashraf Qazi enjoys the best of both worlds. He is a member of the PML-Q which has brought pressure on the sitting government to drop investigations, and as a sitting Senator and Lt General, is beyond the reach of any form of accountability. I do hope to be proven wrong and that my cynicism unwarranted, but when was the last time you heard of a sitting Senator/Lt General held to account?
As if it wasn’t bad enough that entourages of Arab royals are crisscrossing the country hunting an endangered species, Sindh Assembly Speaker Nisar Khuhro and MPAs Taimur Talpur and Sharjil Inam Memon under the patronage of police and local waderas, indulged in a spot of deer hunting. Endangered deer, of course, otherwise where would the fun be?
As local villagers attempted to contact the local police and gaming officials; their cell phones were conveniently not responding. When they attempted to challenge the hunting party, they received the obligatory threat of having to face “dire consequences”. It’s quite obvious which side broke the law and got away with it.
A man and his country
There are probably a few people in Pakistan like Malik Riaz, chairman of Bahria Town. In the aftermath of the death of five spectators on one of his housing estates, the chairman received the President of Pakistan at his residence in the middle of the night, accepted apologies from high ranking police officers for having the audacity to attempt to investigate a crime, and insured that his son with a police escort was ushered through Benazir Bhutto International Airport to make his way to Dubai.
If doling out property to government functionaries was not enough to insure the compliance of the state, Bahria Town has also established a partnership with the cash strapped Defence Housing Authority Islamabad.
The honourable Chairman proudly claimed that his wealth added up to $2 billion in an interview with Richard Quest on CNN, yet according to a statement made by the Chief Justice, he does not pay any taxes. He is the man behind the infamous “Rehmani Hajj” where journalists and members of the interior ministry sought forgiveness at the house of God for their sins.
The unholy spectrum
The loot and plunder of individuals and organisations of the public purse is well known. The excuses that are offered to justify such actions are unique. Attach Zardari to any suggestion of financial impropriety and from the religious right to the liberal left, everyone in unison screams corruption. Politicians and corruption: disgusting? Yes. Surprising? No.
Come closer to home, and it’s not that obvious anymore. So many individuals have come out in support of Bahria Town in the wake of the death of spectators in last year’s car race, while many individuals idolise Malik Riaz’s success, where land grabbing and alleged bribery is explained away as part of doing business in Pakistan.
The misallocation of state resources in relations to private members club, as in the case of the Royal Palm Golf and Country Club or indeed even the Islamabad Club hardly raises any condemnation. Is it because we are members of such institutions, or know people who are or aspire to be one, one day?
Any project titled with the word “strategic”, presented by the military is above any transparency or accountability. The defence of the state is contingent upon the purchase of brand new land cruisers many would argue.
Accusations of corruption reflect our own biases. Our collective silence or acceptance of many cases of waste and misallocation of public resources has created a spectrum moving from unacceptable to socially acceptable forms of corruption.
Those who pay for these excesses are those who look increasingly foolish paying their taxes and the tens of millions of Pakistani’s stuck in poverty. As the state borrows and prints money to pay for the waste of those in power, inflation rises, and the state compensates their allies with even more ill-gotten and undeserving patronage.
Those at the bottom are left to question: whose country is this anyway?
Read part one and two of the series.