Transparency International (TI), through its surveys, measures public perceptions rather than facts. This is a somewhat misleading way to judge a government. But perceptions are crucial to the image, and fate, of governments. The finding that 70 per cent of people perceive the present government to be more corrupt than the previous regime, coupled with TI’s alarming assessment that corruption had soared to Rs223 billion compared to 195 billion the previous year, says a great deal about why the government elected in 2008 has so quickly lost popularity. Corruption is not the sole factor in this. There is also inflation, faltering law and order, terrorism and a whole host of other problems. But as TI Pakistan’s latest report has laid out the corruption issue is a major factor in people’s sense of angst and frustration. The knowledge that the rich in government are growing richer by looting the exchequer, as the poor and the middle-class struggle to manage, is a difficult one to live with. Once more, the police top the list of most corrupt departments. There is also evidence of large-scale wrongdoing in the area of land revenue and tendering. This of course is hardly surprising.
TI’s rating of corruption in the provinces is revealing. At the same time its methods of gathering this information leave a lot to be desired. The rating suggests levels have fallen from 53 per cent in the Punjab under Pervaiz Elahi to 43 per cent under Shahbaz Sharif, as an outcome of better governance. This is something the other provinces could learn from. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has been rated the most corrupt, followed by Balochistan and Sindh. A charge it has strongly protested against. But Pakistan’s consistent ranking as among the most corrupt countries has inflicted on it damage in terms of image and reluctance of investors. It creates a bad example for ordinary Pakistanis who, by seeing that those entrusted with upholding the laws of the land so frequently break them, act in the same manner. Clearly, what is needed is the political will to be able to hold accountable all those who are in powerful positions in the government and who either are involved in financial corruption or abuse their authority.
Published in the Express Tribune, June 3rd, 2010.
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