Essay on Corruption in Pakistan



A country exists to ensure well being of its citizens, promises a quality life and freedom from servitude, so that people able to live without fear of injustice and tyranny. Nothing harms these promises more than corruption in the organs of the state. It does not remain restricted to the public sector only; rather like a contagious disease, it permeates the whole society.

Corruption is generally defined as, “abuse of public office for private gains”. The National Anti Corruption Strategy (NACS) has defined corruption as “a behaviour on the part of office holders in the public or private sector whereby they improperly and unlawfully enrich themselves and/or those close to them, or induce other to do so, by misusing the position in which they are placed”.

Corruption is a menace that is looming large before the humanity; developing as well as developed nations suffer from corruption but the nature, intensity, and frequency of corruption in developing countries is much greater than developed countries. Conservative estimates states that world corruption accounts for more than $700 billion. Pakistan being no exception, also reel from staggering corruption. Quaid-e-Azam while addressing 1st Constituent Assembly of Pakistan warned about corruption in following words

“One of the biggest curses from which India is suffering, I do not say that other countries are free from it, but, I think our conditions is much worse, is bribery and corruption. That really is a poison. We must put it down with an iron hand.”

Lamentably, the apt words of the Jinnah fell on deaf ears. Corruption has become a disease infecting every aspect of political, social and economic activity in Pakistan. Since first being included in 1995, Pakistan has consistently performed poorly on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) of Transparency International. As per 2016 CPI report, Pakistan ranks at 116th position. The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report (2007-08) says that corruption is the third greatest problem for companies for doing business in Pakistan. A World Bank report containing an assessment of the Pakistan’s Infrastructure Capacity (PICA) states that 15% of Pakistan’s Development budget for 2007-08 was lost in the procurement process alone due to corruption. General perceptions and actual public surveys about corruption show that police, power sector, judiciary, and various Taxation departments (Custom duties, Income Tax) are most corruption infested entities in Pakistan.

From the complex web of multifarious factors that are responsible for this nerve-racking level of corruption in Pakistan, it is possible to disentangle the main strands. Corruption has its roots in the mass migration during the emergence of this country. The migration resulted in vacuum in a number of areas that triggered the initial phase of corruption. The internecine squabbling of the political lot and turf war to seize power was a corruption in itself. Their parochialism thwarted any attempt to provide a governance system to the nascent state. The myopic visions and quibbling of political elite excited the military and bureaucratic nexus to intervene in the politics that further undermined the governance system thus paved the way for the corruption. Given half a chance, the bureaucracy availed themselves of opportunities of corruption especially in the evacuee property distribution. The judiciary also collaborated in this corruption saga by upholding the infamous doctrine of necessity. Thus from an objective point, it seems that the pillars of the state themselves proved to be the stepping stones for the corruption in this country.

In Pakistan, politics has long been about compromise rather than conviction. Political parties run on expediency, not ideology, which makes it possible to cobble together all manner of oddball coalitions. The political leadership, which sets the country’s ethical standards, sadly in Pakistan’s case, set examples of worst governance, exploitation of public office as an opportunity for self-enrichment, looting of the public coffers, massive incompetence and betrayal of public trust. Regrettably, the democracy in its true essence never took a firm hold in Pakistan. Resultantly, the ideals of rule of the law and independent institutions remained elusive. The accountability mechanism was either not in place or when it has, it was simply a travesty of accountability. Convicting on the selective, levelling untenable corruption allegation against the political rivals and presidential orders like “National Reconciliation Order” in the name of “reconciliation” dealt a severe blow to the anti-corruption measures. Living in this politically corrupt environment, the corruption found a perfect habitat for growth and spill over.

Our societal ethos and basic tenets encourages corruption. Society venerates the rich and resourceful while honesty, integrity and fairness are mocked at. Stories of college drop-outs becoming billionaires are hailed rather than heralding the altruistic people corrupt are no longer ostracised, graft money is ostentatiously displayed but no one raises finger at it, rather it is considered as part of the success story. The societal appreciation of the rich and powerful while paying no appreciation to integrity has silenced the voice of the consciousness against these mal-practices. Moreover, only multi-millionaires swanking in exotic cars, living in the palatial houses are depicted by media. This is the against the ground realities of this country, where one third population lives below poverty line. Thus media paints a tantalizing world which is probably difficult to achieve by fair means. Resultantly, gullible people are lured into immoral activities and myopically scramble to get these material objects by any means.

The challenge is to understand why, when faced with temptation, officials engage in corruption, and why the public often colludes. At the individual’s level, corruption results from need or greed combined with opportunity, when there is low fear of detection and/or punishment. The need or greed element of corruption must be understood in its wider context by which the system fails to provide a viable alternative to corruption. The gigantic population of the country means that there are scant per capita resources available. The struggle to acquire resources exists throughout world, but here in Pakistan it has taken a gruesome shape. The country low level of economic development, economic disparity and poor prospects of prosperity by fair means has resulted in the massive corruption. Moreover, large family size, social pressures for ostentatious demonstration of wealth and insistence for dowry prod individuals towards corruption. But why the public colludes? People are themselves oblivious of their de jure rights and privileges owing to mass illiteracy. The gullible masses even pay for the services that are free and responsibility of the government. Had there been an educated country, the situation would have been much different. People tolerate corruption, the social groups and public do not move against the corrupt. In India Anna Hazare thrust on his government to accept his demands regarding the anti-corruption law bill, but Pakistan still waits for its Anna Hazare to stand up.

One particular form of corruption i.e., administrative corruption, rears its ugly head in Pakistan. The civil servants are considered to be most corrupt, they blatantly and brazenly does corruption and get away with it with impunity. Because the system is so configured that they scramble to corruption. Civil servants find themselves inadequately remunerated but with high levels of discretionary powers, they fall an easy prey to corruption.

The corporate or business sector is not paragon of virtue either, littered with mal-practices; corruption finds its place at the core. Corporate governance is practiced only in form and not in substance. Real demand and supply factors have negligible role in shaping the marked behaviour, which predominantly controlled by the middleman or speculators. Counterfeit products have flooded the markets. There is no effective consumer’s rights protection regime. The monopoly control mechanism has turned out to be of least effective. The Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) has failed to dismantle the infamously known cement, sugar and pharmaceutical cartels. Successive governments failed to develop proper business standards for the public and private sector. Large-scale profiteering, hoarding, racketeering and poor market mechanism caused an alarming inflation, a case of the rich getting richer as the poor getting poorer.

No matter, how rigorous the internal controls or anti-corruption mechanism, there is always a probability that an evil-genius might find a way to circumvent the procedures. Even in the most developed nations, multi-billion scams occur. So the best possible pre-emptive measure is to imbibe in the human soul that corruption is morally, socially and religiously bad. Despite having the categorical injunctions of Islam in this regard, corruption is rampant. The religious leaders must shoulder the blame for this. For them jihad only means fighting with non-Muslims but they overlook the real essence of jihad, which is fighting with oneself, thereby controlling your own whimsical desires.

The menace of corruption creates sense of insecurity, exacerbates poverty and adds to the misfortune of the vulnerable segments of the society. It also instils a sense of hopelessness and despondency. Corruption poses serious threat to the sanctity of ethical and democratic values and weakens administrative, political and social institutions. The particular deadliness of the corruption disease lies in its self-perpetuation—any corrupt act sets in motion a vicious cycle and becomes the source for further acts of corruption. It causes direct loss to the public exchequer, in financial terms, is difficult to measure, but is significant. Pakistan’s human development indicators such as literacy rate, life expectancy and infant mortality have shown little improvement in the past decades and are amongst the worst in the region. Furthermore, the corruption has saddled the country with high debt which, are approximately 40% of budgetary expenditure. The private sector and commercial enterprise has been stifled by corruption. Unnecessary, obstructive and, above all, coercive bureaucracy impedes healthy businesses. Moreover, the blatant disregard for law and the ostentatious asset accumulation and display by the top public office holders has led to a decline in the moral standards and values of the society.

Corruption in the police and judiciary has contributed to the breakdown of law and order. In the absence of inexpensive and effective legal remedies, resort to extra-judicial methods has been on the rise. There has been a loss of legitimacy of state institutions in the eyes of the populace. Rampant corruption has chaos led to the dismissal of four elected governments, creating political instability. This political instability has contributed to Pakistan’s vulnerability and lack of regional security. Finally, corruption, and the lawlessness and inequality it spawns, has tarnished the image of the country in international arena. It can be sagely extrapolated keeping in view this massive corruption that Pakistan is cheating itself of future potential.

Awareness of dire consequences of corruption has existed, as evident from anti-corruption drives undertaken from time to time. Legal initiatives started with the Prevention of Corruption Act 1947. Laws like public Representatives (Disqualification) Act 1949 and the Elected bodies (Disqualification) Ordinance 1959 were introduced to disqualify corrupt public representatives from holding public office. However, these crusades against corruption turned out to be vendettas against political opponents.

Anti Corruption agencies were established to curb corruption like FIA (that replaced the Pakistan Special Police Establishment (PSPE) in 1975), the provincial Anti Corruption Establishments (ACEs), The Ehtesab Commission, 1996 and Ehtesab Bureau, 1997. Hampered by political interference, these organizations have proved utterly ineffective. In fact, they are themselves infested with corruption and lack capacity for the task assigned to them. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) replaced the Ehtesab Bureau in 1999. A National Anti-Corruption Strategy, which was developed in 2002, offers a comprehensive plan for tackling corruption. The executing agency, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), was endowed with comprehensive powers to investigate and prosecute cases. However, lack of political will coupled with flawed legal system turned out to be insurmountable hurdles in the fight against corruption. The National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) jeopardized the anti-corruption measures by granted blanket immunity for past corrupt actions, shielding many public officials and political leaders from prosecution. But fortunately, so to speak, the farce Ordinance was declared null and void and by the Supreme Court.

Anti-corruption action has produced a mountain of words and hardly a molehill of solid results in terms of positive change, or, reform, in institutional behaviour. Overall, these various anti-corruption drives and initiatives failed for two reasons. Firstly, the political will and capacity to tackle the problem have been lacking within the political elite. Secondly, all previous commissions and reports put on paper their findings and recommendations. No way forward for implementation was designed. The government must be mindful of the fact that only the folklore of corruption and paying mere lip-service to an anti-corruption measures, is not enough. There is a dire need for a comprehensive, realistic and holistic assessment of the nature, causes and impact of corruption. Containing corruption on a sustainable basis requires a broader vision, meticulous planning and a targeted strategy. The anti-corruption cursed must incorporate awareness, prevention, monitoring and combating corruption; designed and implemented by involving all stakeholders.

The anti-corruption strategy must rest on four pillars: democratic reform, rule of law, a assertive civil society and economic development. Political leaders need to set the precedents of fairness, honesty and integrity. They must understand that politics is a sacred profession; they must not dabble in it for seizing power or for self-enrichment. They need to do away with the political corruption by holding fair party election, promoting the people of integrity and formulating their manifestoes on national issues. Morality cannot be divorced from the constitution. In order to be a member of parliament, a person must be of “good character”. So anyone commonly known to be disreputable must be chucked out even if there is no conviction against him.

There is a need to have an across-the-board accountability mechanism. Hitherto, the accountability was much ado about nothing. The loopholes must be removed and any corrupt, despite the rank and position, must get a poetic justice. Scandinavian countries are least corrupt probably because of the minimal rich-poor divide. Ironically, an Asian country Singapore is also considered corruption-free by Transparency International. Singapore’s anti-corruption drive mainly rests upon its stringent implementation. Singapore’s Government Instruction Manual stipulates that both the giver and the receiver of the bribe are guilty of corruption and are liable to the same punishment. And if the person involved is a politician, the punishment is even more severe. We need to imitate the same model and must show our resolve in implementing the anti-corruption measures. In letter and spirit, every corrupt must get an expedite justice and a notion must prevail that no one can circumvent the anti-corruption laws. As the former US President of United States, Mr. Bill Clinton, once remarked, it is not the severity but they certainly of punishment that deters evil doers.

Independence of institutions needs to be ensured, especially the NAB. It must be empowered and have paraphernalia for detecting, investigating, and prosecuting corrupts. The number, powers and jurisdiction of accountability courts needs to be enhanced. The governments of Nigeria and the Philippines fought the successful legal battles with the Swiss authorities in their bids to get back the billions looted by Sani Abacha and Ferdinand Marcos. Pakistan must emulate the example and a close to $97 billion stashed in Swiss banks by the Pakistanis must be claimed and brought back. As it will convey a categorical message that looters cannot ravel in the looted money any more. Politicians and civil servants just be barred from borrowing money from any financial institution so as to eliminate the despicable loan write offs.

The bureaucracy needs to be empowered before asking them of optimum service delivery. It would be worthwhile to take postings, transfers and promotions out of the ambit of politicians. In Britain, the bureaucracy is permanent in law and in spirit. If the relations between a minister and the permanent secretary become irreconcilable, it is the minister who has to go, not the civil servant— because the civil servant is permanent.  In contrast, in our country, the opposite is in vogue that is hampering the progress. The salaries of public officials have to be at par with the private sector. The salaries must be pegged to the rate of growth and inflation in the economy. The government’s message has to be clear. We will pay you well, don’t get involved in corrupt practices. In this regard, the precedent of Motorway police is before us. We need to encourage whistle blowing and protect the whistle blower.

It is not the sole responsibility of government for eliminating corruption nor, in view of the level and frequency of corruption, the government has the capacity to eradicate corruption. The civil society and media needs to on hands for realizing a corruption free Pakistan. The much of the onus of inculcating the honesty and integrity in society lies with the public. The public needs to learn their rights. They must not pay bribes themselves and should report incidents of corruption to the authorities. Like charity, the war against corruption begins at home. At the family level, parents needs to imbibe in their children the right values are integrity, honesty and fairness, and arouse an antipathy towards corruption. We need to promote excellence and teach our young generation the actual meaning of success. The civil society must shun any corrupt elements, so that their looted money becomes a stigma for them rather than earning a public laud. Moreover, media should take a lead in launching anti-corruption campaigns. They should conduct investigations and report cases of corruption supported by facts, estimate the damage done and identify people who are involved in such cases.

“The strongest deterrent (of corruption) is the public opinion which censures and condemns corrupt persons; in other words, it makes corruptions so unacceptable that the stigma of corruption cannot be washed away even by serving a prison sentence.”

Overall, Pakistan has a strong potential for being a reasonably corruption free society if every citizen join hands together and take some actions to deal with every cause. In the 21st century we have knowledge and proven mechanism to fight corruption and have the precedents of countries that fought this menace effectively. Now it is up to the public to rise to the occasion and initiate a crusade against corruption. Unquestionably, the corruption free Pakistan will be a more congenial place to live in.

1 Comment
  1. Sarmad says

    A very well written and amazing peace of writing.

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