Our democratic kleptocrats

Published: March 2, 2012


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.


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Reader Comments (15)

  • Falcon
    Mar 2, 2012 - 11:47PM

    Talking about poverty alleviation and fiscal austerity, isn’t it funny that in Iran with a GDP per capita more than twice as ours and supposedly a theocracy, the president drives a 1977 car while our politicians as well as generals of this democracy can hardly keep their hands off the next upcoming model in the market.


  • Zalmai
    Mar 3, 2012 - 1:05AM


    You cannot compare a sophisticated country coupled with the legacy of the Persian empire to Pakistan. They are leaps and bounds ahead of both India and Pakistan in all matters.


  • Democrat
    Mar 3, 2012 - 9:46AM


    lolz… but look we can compensate for what the iranians are doing… our president is running a 1967 model party with the poorest awaam :) and the other day i was watching a talk show in which a PPP and a PMLn men were brazenly bragging to the PTI man that we will see how can you pass a legislation through the senate!!! they think the awaam are animals and dont understand anything..i wish the awam should pay back in the same currency to these looters this time :)


  • unbeliever
    Mar 3, 2012 - 10:35AM


    earning 80% of your exports from petro-dollars isn’t really hallmark of development.

    development should be measured in terms of per capita income, education, literacy, and the more contentious ones open-mindedness, mutual respect for other countries and cultures (they talk of annhilating israel), R&D, no. of scientific researches, tolerance.

    while iran is clearly ahead in some parameters, yet on some accounts it lags badly, and there is no clear-cut effort to improve position on those fronts.


  • Parvez
    Mar 3, 2012 - 12:47PM

    You do try hard to create an awareness of problems plaguing this land. Kindly do not stop as hopefully someone someday may sit up and listen.


  • lawangeen
    Mar 3, 2012 - 1:23PM

    Thanks to a Sindhi politicion( Junejo) the mis-nomer of development funds found its way into politics.Now like a man eater we either feed the monster or kill it,Good choice ,the second one.


  • Falcon
    Mar 3, 2012 - 1:34PM

    Interesting that you mentioned that. I remember seeing that show as well where PMLN and PPP representatives pretty much implied that no matter how good your (PTI) recommendations are for the nation, we will not facilitate legislation on your behalf unless you get on good terms with us (which essentially means stop criticizing us). Now who will call this political mafia the representative of democracy?


  • Concerned
    Mar 3, 2012 - 1:41PM

    The need to get PTi and Imran Khan elcted, and in power, to create real democracy,intead of this pseudo-democratic kleptocracy!


  • Ali Wazir
    Mar 3, 2012 - 3:23PM

    LOL you should have also mentioned the 40 crore per vote at the Senate….. Its a rich country if you are on top…
    BTW We are living on borrowed time, by any measure the economy will collapse next year, I would hate being the party forming the next government.


  • Alsahdiq
    Mar 3, 2012 - 4:51PM

    The very first question to ask is “Do we have democracy”? The truthful answer of any truthful person will be No. None what so ever.
    So why do we expect any kind of credibility from those whom we have elected?
    Democracy is of the people, by the people, for the people. We or any other nation in the world, do not have such a system where people at large matter. Do we?
    Why do we, the people at large do not matter? Simply because we the people at large have have never come out to work to have democracy.
    To have democracy we the people have to work. Work to organise our own Party. A Party of the people, by the people, for the people.
    Whether we want an Islamic sytem or democractic system the path is very much the same for all. People must join hands with each other to organise themselves into a responsible and caring societies looking after ecah other.
    Such a system was brought about by the earliest Muslims in total obedience to Lord Almighty as such those people became winner.
    It is not rocket science but very simple matter to understnd that if people do not organise to keep a vigil collectively, on how their tax money and resources common to the people are spent why would anyone care for how they loot our resources and our tax money? Dioes it make sense? So it is us the people who have left everything to the crooks and robbers and never bother to organise ourselves in order to put a stop to all the thieving and robbery, so why will we not endure what we do endure?
    The time for action is for the people at large is now. When they will start coming together to organise themselves into a responsible and caring societies looking after each other then it is expected that things will start going in the right direction. To be able to come together each and everyone of us will have to change our bad habits for goog habits. Good habits that make it easy for the people to come together to join hands to come to look after their common interests. Any other way is bound to be a failure as it has been all these years.


  • Meekal Ahmed
    Mar 3, 2012 - 4:58PM


    This was predictable — although I think that some of the figures being bandied around are sensationalistic. Nevertheless, a bribe is a bribe and must be deplored in the strongest possible terms.

    Now the PPP will say that if they do not do it, the others will. That does present a bit of a conundrum. If they had not bribed, they would have lost every seat!

    As for our Iran-friends above. They need to do a bit of reading up to see how the economy is being handled by the state. It is quite deplorable for a country that is rich. Of course things now are bad because of the sanctions. But the economy has been poorly managed for years with high inflation despite pervasive price controls, huge subsidies (especially for the rich) a public sector that is very corrupt and dysfunctional. The President himself may be a very modest man who sits on the ground and eats with his hands but the Mullah’s are are known to be financially corrupt. You think they don’t buy votes there?


  • Ali
    Mar 3, 2012 - 6:44PM

    No he did not say anything about the annihilation of Israel. He called for the end of the Zionist regime, which is racism of the highest order. Palestinians and arabs in general are caged animals in the land they have lived in for thousands of years. The west bank is slowly being colonized, Gaza bombed for one pretext or another.
    If you are a Jew, no matter where in the world you happen to be, and however dubious your claim, you have more rights than a native Arab in that area.
    What right do the settlers in Hebron, destroying the lives of a hundred thousand people for some fairy tale, most of them are probably Eurpoean genetically speaking, have to cause such suffering?


  • Mirza
    Mar 3, 2012 - 7:43PM

    We should give respect where respect is due. Zardari has played by the rules and he has beaten everyone at this game of power. Hats off to him – no one else has matched his guile.
    What is more . . . he doesn’t pretend to be something he is not and has shown everyone’s true colours in the process of staying on top.
    Real politik . . . it is what matters, not this ideology stuff being sold by other lost causes.
    If Zardari wants to do something, nothing can stop him . . . the proof is in the pudding.


  • Mirza
    Mar 3, 2012 - 7:50PM

    I am not alone in recognising reality for what it is. Seasoned commentators like Najam Sethi and economists like Meekal Ahmed also understand what real politik is and they agree that Zardari is the heavy weight champion here.
    Kleptocracy is part of the system here – you cannot blame Zardari or anyone else for using it. I believe Zardari will, over the next three years bring great development to Pakistan. Foreign investment will go up and poverty will decline through the trickle down effect.
    The markets determine a nations future, not some socio-religious ideology.


  • Mar 3, 2012 - 11:09PM

    “The need to get PTi and Imran Khan elcted, and in power, to create real democracy,intead of this pseudo-democratic kleptocracy!”

    Apparently Imran has a magic wand. Panacea for all problems. Trolling is not going to win votes even if Aunt Jemima comes back to help in campaigning.

    Imran and democracy, you can’t be serious?


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