Has corruption increased in Pakistan?

Govt must realise that in face of such a terrible picture chances for foreign investment would remain hopelessly low

Rustam Shah Mohmand February 02, 2021
The writer is a former chief secretary K-P and former ambassador

In its report on the state of corruption in Pakistan, Transparency International (TI) has ranked Pakistan at 124 out of 180 countries. In other words, the country has lost four more points or corruption has significantly increased in the last two years during Imran Khan’s tenure.

The country has also scored less than last year in two categories: Rule of Law Index and Varieties of Democracy due to which Pakistan’s score in CPI 2020 has reduced by one.

The report of the highly respected organisation is a damning indictment of a government that has made elimination of corruption the centrepiece of its policy. Never before in Pakistan’s history has a government so vociferously made elimination of corruption its top priority.

As soon as the report was published, the ministers rushed to rebuke the contents of the report alleging that the statistics on the basis of which the report was prepared related to the periods of previous governments — wholly ridiculous assertions that no one would accept.

Despite tall claims of rooting out the menace of corruption, why has there been an upward spike in graft in the last two years?

TI has however acknowledged that the National Accountability Bureau has, according to its claims, recovered Rs363 billion since 2018 from those found to have been involved in corruption. Additionally, the Public Accounts Committee also claims to have recovered Rs300 billion. But TI has noted that despite these successes, corruption registered a spike. What could be the reasons for this?

The reasons are not difficult to ascertain. Firstly, there has been an overdue emphasis on rhetoric with very little attention to a whole complex picture of eradication of corruption. The task would involve identifying the reasons, examining systems closely, introducing reforms where needed, institutionalising the system of accountability, removing existing deficiencies in the systems, dealing with inequalities, etc. These are fundamental issues that require to be incorporated into the governance system in order to make them transparent. The government regrettably has not been able to pay attention to the whole issue in its true perspective. Speeches — no holds barred — do not provide remedies or solutions. The evil of corruption is rooted in the psyche of many and cannot be dealt with by making statements alone.

The other reason is that the government at the top is obsessed with punishing its political rivals — mainly those in the PML-N and to an extent, in the PPP. This being the priority, all other echelons of bureaucracy feel comfortable because they are not on the government’s radar. This is the time to engage quietly in receiving graft as the government is awfully preoccupied with just a few politicians. Eradication of corruption cannot be pursued in a climate of political vendetta. An expediency-driven approach that is premised on punishing political opponents cannot help in creating the right ambience for dealing with malpractices.

Dealing with corruption would require an even-handed approach. Sparing some and targeting others would create suspicions and destroy the notion of fair accountability. Chasing those who pose a political challenge would taint the whole process, and shatter people’s confidence in the ability of the government to cleanse the system. That is what is happening in Pakistan. The report has brought to light the not so visible factors that have contributed to an increase in the extent and level of corruption in the country.

The report that places Pakistan lower than other countries in the region, like Afghanistan, should not be dismissed on bogus grounds. It should awaken the leadership to take stock of the grim reality of the ever-rising menace of corruption and motivate the government to chalk out a comprehensive short- and long-term plan to combat the evil. The government must realise that in the face of such a terrible picture the chances for foreign investment would remain hopelessly low. What to speak of foreign investment, even Pakistani investors would be tempted to seek other avenues for their capital to be invested.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 3rd, 2021.

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