Highly illustrative of the morality of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan’s politics was the passage of the Twentieth Amendment Bill through the Senate last month. The honourable members of that most honourable Upper House held out until, it seems, their ‘demands’ were met. Sixty of these representatives of the people of Pakistan, indirectly and expensively elected, were allowed to recoup a little drop of the amount they were forced to spend to gain access to the most honourable Upper House. They were paid by a generous government, an amount of Rs360 million each under the guise of ‘development funds’. Added to that, the retiring senators were endowed with what they feel and are their due perks and privileges.
This, apparently is, but the renewed beginning of the raking in of monies by our politicians, shameless or broke as they be. Earlier this week, Maleeha Lodhi wrote: “The use of public money to cement political support points to the likelihood of more ‘political spending’ in the run-up to the polls.” She terms it “patronage-driven fiscal profligacy”.
Others are not so polite. Excerpts from letters to the press from two citizens of Pakistan bluntly say it as it is: ‘Our senators blackmailed the government by demanding Rs360 million for passing the 20th Amendment Bill,’ and ‘If it is not another form of bribery, what else is it?’
Now, we come to the democratic aspect of what has gone on for the past four years of ‘restored’ democracy, or rather ‘revenge’ (as the PPP likes to have it) upon Pakistan, and its 180 million-odd inhabitants. One must always remember that anyone or anything that fits the bill ‘born again’ has to be suspect. There is always an element of extremism and high hypocrisy about them.
This government perfectly fits the definition of a kleptocracy, one characterised by greed and corruption. It is a form of political corruption ‘where the government exists to increase the personal wealth and political power of its officials and the ruling class at the expense of the wider population, often without pretence of honest service’. Well, in the case of the Senate of Pakistan and the Twentieth Amendment Bill, there certainly was not even a pretence of pretence — a disgraceful blatancy was the order of the day.
Kleptocrats achieve their aims by the embezzlement of state funds. Kleptocracies are not normally associated with democracies where there are checks and balances and accountability, so in that, we are a fraudulent exception. Kleptocracies generally define corrupt dictatorships, military juntas and their like, where the kleptocrats, in the absence of democracy, are able to control personally public funds and disburse them as they please. Such is the case with the senators and the Twentieth Amendment Bill.
One telling trait of kleptocrats is their use of their country’s treasury, as they would use their own personal bank accounts. They spend state money on luxury items, buying and spending without a care or worry. Of course, the worst aspect of this abject kleptocracy is that the funds misappropriated are generally those supposed to be channelled towards public amenities — the construction of schools, hospitals, roads, parks and playgrounds, sewerage and other sanitation systems. In our case, much of the filched money, either spent or transferred to numbered bank accounts in safe countries ironically comes from funds allocated to ‘poverty alleviation’.
To quote: ‘The quasi-oligarchy that results from a kleptocracy also subverts democracy.’
Published in The Express Tribune, March 3rd, 2012.