Insanity — doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results. —Unknown
Corruption is defined as an abuse of official power by elected politicians or civil servants for private gain. The Urdu word for corruption is badunwani — and the word corruption has roots in Latin and French whose meanings are ‘to destroy’, ‘to contaminate’ and ‘to seduce’. Corruption does all that. Hence, it is likely to be the root cause of most evils.
The construction industry contributed 2.7% to the country’s GDP and the sector grew by 9.1% in the financial year 2017. Projects such as roads and bridges as well as metros and motorways have roughly consumed half a trillion rupees between 2013 and 2017. By the year 2030, global construction output is expected to jump from $8 trillion to $17.5 trillion per annum and it is estimated that between 10% and 30% of that amount may be lost due to corruption. In Pakistan, too, the volume of corruption in the construction sector is believed to be around 30%. No wonder politicians and bureaucrats love infrastructural projects but not educational ones.
The 2005 earthquake offers a concrete example. Due to massive corruption in public-sector construction, almost all government buildings collapsed as opposed to self-built houses and structures particularly in the urban areas of Mansehra and Muzaffarabad. According to official data, 19,000 children died due to the collapse of 10,000 school buildings. Experts estimated that about ‘40-50% of funds for government buildings were siphoned off by corrupt officials.’ Twelve years on, despite the availability of funds, the government could reconstruct only 60% of the damaged schools. Also, the rate of fund utilisation in the education sector has always been extremely low in Pakistan.
Both empirical and theoretical studies find a strong correlation between corruption and economic performance. I must cite here findings of a fascinating study of Mohamed Dridi (2014) of the University of Sousses, Tunisia. It finds that a ‘one point increase in the corruption index decreases 10% in the secondary school enrolment rates.’ It also states that ‘corruption yields weaker results, ie, performance and internal efficiency.’ Scholars also find ‘evidence in many countries that improved control of corruption leads to better adult literacy rates’. Moreover, some studies reveal adverse ‘effects of corruption on the provision of social services.’
Not surprisingly, Pakistan is now called the ‘sick man of South Asia’ as it stands at the bottom of most global and regional rankings, including gender equality, food security, mother and child mortality, human development, literacy, quality education, voter turnout and resilience to disasters. Shamelessly only Yemen or Nigeria are below a nuclear power. Thanks to the corrupt ruling elites.
Consider this: since 1988, the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-N ruled the country for more than 15 years each at the centre and in the provinces. And a military dictator ruled for nine years. All seemingly failed us. In the 1990s, the Social Action Plan was introduced amid fanfare, and until 2015 we implemented the MDGs. We failed miserably to achieve most targets.
Our parliament has adopted the SDGs (2015-30) as a national agenda. This must be appreciated but strangely three parallel structures have been created at the federal level. One each under the prime minister, the speaker of the National Assembly and the Planning Commission with no interface with each other. This development regime provides yet another golden opportunity to transform our society. Sadly, early signs are extremely worrisome. A large chunk of funds for the SDGs are given only to the ruling party MPs. Sadly, local councils have been denied access to SDGs’ funds. Scanning of SDGs meetings’ minutes and participation in a few meetings reveal the same old mindset of bureaucracy and elected officials — lots of talk and meetings, many committees but little or no output.
This leads us to the accountability drive against and the debate around corruption in Pakistan. It is primarily based on these points. First, it is a conspiracy of the ‘miltablishment’ against democracy. Second, historical — the establishment has always conspired against politicians. Nawaz Sharif is not the first elected prime minister who has faced this fate, 17 PMs were overthrown in a similar fashion. Third, peoples’ mandate versus the rule of law — the judiciary can’t punish a politician who has the electoral mandate of millions of voters. Fourth, inclusive accountability — why nab only politicians like Nawaz? What about other members of the corrupt elite?
Politicians all over the world tend to politicise corruption if graft cases are initiated against them. Benjamin Netanyahu — a four-time elected prime minister of Israel — is facing corruption charges. Like Nawaz, he has also been diverting the public attention away from his corruption. The only difference is that he is accusing the media of ‘leading a witch-hunt campaign against him’ while Nawaz is blaming judges and generals. In the recent past rulers of South Korea, South Africa, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Ecuador, Thailand and many others were either imprisoned or removed from power due to corruption. However, unlike the PML-N, the ruling parties in those countries didn’t support their corrupt leaders. Here on the contrary, many Pakistanis perceive the PML-N’s unity and loyalty for Nawaz Sharif as a strength. I don’t because this will damage the PML-N in the long run and the country.
Simply the political leaders who amassed assets beyond their known means of earning deprive themselves of the moral high ground, and therefore must leave politics and return the money to nations they plundered.
Therefore, ending corruption and the rule of the corrupt is extremely essential for achieving the goals of SDGs. Just consider this. For the implementation of the SDGs, the sources of funds, the advice and the consultation are the same old ones. The technocrats, the lawmakers, the political dynasties, the policymakers, the implementers, the ruling parties, the premiers and the cabinets are the same, with the same old decadent, inept and corrupt attitudes. And they are stubbornly sticking to their corrupt ways.
For example, on February 28th the Punjab Assembly voted against the National Accountability Bureau for arresting allegedly a corrupt bureaucrat. With the same vigour, the National Assembly amended the Elections Act of 2017 in order to clear the path for a disqualified person to head a political party. This must have eroded the trust of many Pakistanis in elected institutions.
Facts speak louder than official claims. Pakistan ranked at 122nd position on the SDG index, while Bangladesh and India are at 120 and 116 positions, respectively.
For such a situation Albert Einstein had said “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Based on the above discussion, two conclusions could be drawn. First, the corrupt are united for self-perpetuation and second the political elites have failed to produce reform-minded leadership. Therefore, we must change the leaders, the managers, the mindset and the strategy, if we want to implement SDGs successfully. We must end corruption and remove the corrupt. We must shift our bias away from infrastructural projects and focus on human development.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 17th, 2018.