Ending corruption in Pakistan

Public accountability and transparency are needed urgently if the democratic experience is to survive.

Dr Azeem Ibrahim January 28, 2013
The writer is Strategic Policy Advisor to Imran Khan and tweets @azeemibrahim

Imran Khan, leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, has made eradicating corruption a central plank of his campaign platform. Last year, he commissioned me to examine the kind of legislation required to tackle corruption and the result is a report titled Legal Structures to Address the Problem of Corruption in Pakistan. The 150-page report gives examples of legislation from other countries that emerged from authoritarian rule and stresses that the process is threefold — transparency, defining corruption and protection of whistle-blowers must not only be enshrined in law but must be enforceable and rigorously implemented.

The report contains examples and best practices from many countries, which are dealing successfully with corruption — Georgia, Poland, Vietnam, Turkey — and not only provides extensive details but also contains sample legislation.

Corruption continues to be a matter of deep concern as it destroys the social contract between those who are governing and those being governed. It is considered by some international forums to be a violation of human rights and even a crime against humanity. The embezzlement of public funds is a central threat to human rights and the survival of democracy. We are not talking about the petty corruption that exists at the bureaucratic level, which seems to be endemic in most developing countries that have a fragile delivery of social services. The concern is for the widespread financial and political corruption, nepotism and abuse of power that enables politicians and leaders to amass huge private fortunes, while their constituents remain in poverty.

This is happening on an unprecedented level in Pakistan. This year, the country has reached the highest level of corruption yet, as measured by Transparency International Pakistan in its 2012 report. Pakistan has become even more corrupt since the last assessment and is now ranked 42 compared with the previous ranking of 33. Corruption in Pakistan has reached its highest level during the last year and has totalled Rs12,600 billion over the last five years.

Pakistan first needs a legislative definition of corruption. Much of the country’s legislation regarding anti-corruption dates back to 1860, in laws inherited from the British colonial administration. There are multiple laws in Pakistan, which overlap, have gaps, or even worse, have been drafted to protect particular interest groups. Pakistan attempted a Freedom of Information Bill in 2002 but it was never passed.

The key findings of the report are that effective anti-corruption legislation must have: i) transparency legislation, which includes a) reporting conflicts of interest, b) politicians and state officials must disclose their assets — before appointment, annually during appointment and even after appointment and c) freedom of information legislation — information should be available to all public; ii) corruption legislation, defining the problem; and iii) whistle-blower protection, which is very important as individuals must have the confidence to expose corruption and employees are more likely to detect fraud, corruption and misconduct than any outside government agency.

This sample legislation reflects best practices from around the globe and forms a very useful foundation that can be fast tracked towards implementation.

Pakistanis are calling for rights, justice and security in their country and have been frustrated for far too long by a civil and criminal justice system that is failing the people. Public accountability and transparency are needed urgently if the democratic experience is to survive; presently, ordinary people are turning to violence for dispute resolution in the absence of an impartial justice system. The people and their representatives can only achieve good governance if the administration of justice is seen to be above reproach. Imran Khan is aware that the body of anti-corruption law must be revised, updated and made complete. He certainly has the political will to see this through and intends to stop the plundering of Pakistan’s financial resources and divert them to benefit civil society. The people of Pakistan deserve nothing less.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 29th, 2013.


Tamoor | 11 years ago | Reply

A complete overhaul of legislations related to anti-corruption and non-political bureau has become a key factor in eradicating prevailing crisis. You, Dr. Azeem has certainly outlined steps to overcome this dilemma and not only I, we all Pakistanis should be thankful to people like you working for this noble cause. I'm optimist that the team chosen by Imran Khan will be incomparable to existing parties in Pakistan.

Wilayat | 11 years ago | Reply

I will add one more area to address in order to eradicate corruption and it is APPRECIATION of those who are honest and loyal to the country. Although punishment and tough laws work best for the corrupt elements, but to make a sustainable culture of transparency and honesty, rewards system must be introduced on all levels from the peon to the president. It's not necessarily financial rewards but could be even a simple list of honours or a title or just a letter of appreciation. This simple measure will make a real opposition to the corrupt group in every instituiton and obviously will influence their actions. When you value someone, he/she feels responsibility and this brings about changes in character and actions and this culture alone will beat corruption to some extent.

As regards the whistle blowing, it is indeed effective but we will need an overhauling of employment law to ensure ensure the whistle blower is not harmed. To be honest, simply legislation in one area cannot stop this menace, we need overhauling of this whole system and it should be on emergency basis by working day and night and by all citizens of Pakistan.

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