Waltz with corruption - Ghazi Salahuddin - Sunday, November 07, 2010

Source : www.thenews.com.pk

Thanks to the media, we are constantly reminded of important anniversaries and occasions that call for special coverage. We also have ‘International’ days, so many of them, that are earmarked by the UN and its agencies to highlight specific issues. For instance, nine days later, on November 16, we will observe the International Day for Tolerance - and we in Pakistan should particularly pay heed to its message.

So, what is the importance of today, November 7, 2010? As for events recorded on this day in history, you may Google the long list. A major anniversary today is of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia when forces led by Lenin seized power. If you are into trivia, on this date in 1982, Liz Taylor got her seventh divorce.

However, this day in this year is to be noted for the deadline that Interior Minister Rehman Malik has given to the FIA and other departments under his ministry to, yes, “end corruption”. He had given heads of departments seven days, till November 7, to take steps to “eliminate” corruption. After today, he has vowed to take strict action against officials still indulging in corruption.

This should mean that from tomorrow, the Interior Ministry is to be transformed into a vigorous task force against corruption and its exploits are meant to make a difference. You may have watched Rehman Malik announcing his resolve in a live telecast on news channels. His enthusiasm would be in order if this were his initial encounter with the media on assuming his post as the interior minister.

The need for such a deadline, so many months after he has been in office, is interesting. The idea of giving the officials a grace period of seven days may have some wisdom that the ordinary people would find hard to fathom. It is like extending the last date for the submission of some documents. The question is: why now? And does this deadline, this vociferous resolve “to end corruption”, mean that corruption in the relevant departments was so far tacitly condoned? Has the hunting season ended, for whatever reason?

Ah, better late than never, you might say. After all, the issue of corruption has made some headlines lately. In the Corruption Perception Index released by the Transparency International last week, Pakistan has slipped eight places from its ranking last year. Alleged corruption in the public sector has figured in a number of cases pending in the Supreme Court. Investigative reporting in the media is providing a ceaseless flow of disclosures on financial irregularities and blatant abuse of authority.

All this, combined with rising prices and increasing social disorder, has greatly enhanced popular discontent about the performance of the government. A perception about the insensitivity of the rulers towards the plight of the people has a deeper significance than any index framed by an international organisation, though our rulers do get touchy about assessments made by reputed and supposedly objective bodies.

Another major source of anxiety for the present rulers is the challenge they confront in Karachi. At one level, it is the law and order situation that intermittently erupts into a spell of targeted killings. At another, it is the nature of the political alliance in Sindh. Every time there is a crisis in the affairs of Sindh, usually prompted by a wave of violence in Karachi, Rehman Malik is rushed to the scene almost like a fire engine. Sometimes it seems that the fire he needs to extinguish is stoked by his own provincial counterpart, Dr Zulfiqar Mirza.

One measure of how bad the Karachi situation is becoming is the report published this week that said that the number of kidnappings for ransom for this year has exceeded the one-hundred-mark. The tally last year, still very high, was 85 and we have nearly two more months left in 2010. This is a very scary trend and is just one dimension of the lawlessness that prevails in the city.

Hence, there is a great sense of urgency for the government to be seen to be taking some drastic and harsh measures. Enter Rehman Malik. When he said that action would be taken against extortionists – the ones who collect ‘bhatta’ – the reference was obviously to Karachi. He had also spoken about illegal arms, another Karachi quandary. They do talk about de-weaponising the city but nobody knows how it can be done.

Coming back to the deadline that expires today – and some steps have been initiated to launch the crackdown from tomorrow – it is hard to believe that something is about to change in a significant manner. In the first place, the high functionaries of the present arrangement are unwilling to show any remorse or a sense of guilt over their performance, in spite of the evidence that is readily available. Besides, they do not seem to understand what good governance is all about.

We usually tend to look at corruption in material terms and allude to huge amounts of money that are involved in shady transactions. But the real issue is the moral and intellectual degradation of the ruling elites. Islamabad, in many ways, is an emblem of the moral as well as political bankruptcy of our rulers. The manner in which they flaunt their authority and their riches is totally obnoxious. With all their perfumed glory, they are effectively sitting on a heap of garbage.

In that sense, any flamboyant plan to deal with corruption will not serve any purpose until the rulers make a firm resolve to mend their ways and consciously accept honesty and integrity as values that have to be put into practice. For instance, is Prime Minister Yousulf Raza Gilani at ease with the fact that Rs74 million have been spent just to renovate his official residence and his secretariat since he took office?

Incredible it seems but even the floods, that have ravaged this country and millions of its poverty-stricken people, have almost not even ruffled their feathers. More than three months have passed and there is no remarkable show of austerity in the government’s spending. The size of the disgustingly large federal cabinet has yet not been reduced. The majesty of the motorcades remains undiminished.

Meanwhile, of course, we plead for help from foreign donors. Latest reports say that the United Nations has expressed increasing alarm over sluggish funds for the flood victims and has appealed to international donors to act swiftly to stave off a new winter emergency in the flood-hit country.

Our rulers have to contend with other emergencies. They surely want to carry on in their merry ways. However, ensconced in a snug and controlled environment, they are not yet aware of the chilly winds that are blowing around outside of their high mansions.

The writer is a staff member. Email: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail .com

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