ANALYSIS: Corruption-free society? —Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi - Sunday, December 12, 2010

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The major problem in the political domain is that the people in power no longer make a distinction between their official/public and private/personal domains. They have a tendency to use official resources and facilities for their personal and private affairs

Everybody complains about corruption and wants to eliminate it. They key question is, why can corruption not be eliminated if everybody favours it? The answer is simple. Every individual wants others to be fully honest but does not want to change their own habits. The emphasis is on delivering sermons to others or demanding strict action against others rather than dispassionately examining the causes of corruption and starting with self-rectification.

The demand for elimination of corruption has become a political and social weapon, which the competing interests use against each other. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), especially the Sharif brothers, have declared a crusade against corruption but its sole target is the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led federal government, especially President Asif Ali Zardari, who are described as the main source of corruption.

The PPP has initiated a similar campaign against the PML-N led coalition government in Punjab — the PPP is part of this government — because it is said to be engaged in corruption and misuse of state resources. There were charges of corruption and partisan use of state power and resources against both the PPP and the PML-N governments during 1988-1999. The accountability process initiated by the second Nawaz Sharif government and the Musharraf government was politically motivated.

Corruption is deep rooted in Pakistan’s state system and society. Its sources are political, bureaucratic and societal. All governments use state patronage and resources to attain their political considerations. What matters most is the extent and method of its employment. Coalition governments rely heavily on distributing cabinet positions, jobs with perks, and other rewards for keeping the coalition partner in good humour. Pakistan’s current federal cabinet has too many ministers, ministers of state and advisors. There are others who enjoy the status of federal minister or minister of state. The same can be said about the provincial governments where some members of the cabinet do not have any specific department to head. This is done to satisfy different political groups and interests.

The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) got the chairmanship of the Council Of Islamic Ideology (CII) in addition to some cabinet position, including the position of the federal minister for tourism that has been given to the brother of the leader of the JUI who himself is the chairman of the parliamentary Kashmir Committee, whose role in promoting the cause of Kashmir is dubious. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) extracts dividends with reference to its political interests in urban Sindh.

Jobs and material rewards are offered to loyalists and sycophants in order to sustain support. The principle of merit and professionalism is often neglected while rewarding political workers. As a matter of fact most senior workers expect some material gains after the party assumes power. Similarly, parliamentarians build pressure on the government for jobs and material rewards for the people of their constituencies. They also expect the government to appoint local administrators in consultation with them so that they continue to use the local administration to their political advantage.

The major problem in the political domain is that the people in power no longer make a distinction between their official/public and private/personal domains. They have a tendency to use official resources and facilities for their personal and private affairs. For example, the use of official transport for personal and family use is a common practice. Personal and family visits to other cities are shown as official visits to cover the expenses. If a political leader is accused of corruption he would describe it as a politically motivated move and use his political links to neutralise the charges.

The bureaucratic sources of corruption are complex official procedures that are beyond the comprehension of ordinary people, exceedingly slow procedures and non-accessibility of the relevant officials. It is often difficult for ordinary people to get their due right in routine. Rather, one needs a contact, blessings of some influential people, or has to pay money for getting a routine job done.

The bureaucrats, more than the political leaders, exploit their official positions or links to enhance their perks, make money by using their discretionary powers and use official facilities for their private affairs. The corruption of the bureaucrats is more difficult to detect. That is the reason that a military-dominated government gets away with corruption. They often legalise what would normally be viewed as corruption.

Societal sources refer to the corruption and use of unfair practices by non-officials in day-to-day affairs. Individuals like shopkeepers, business people and others providing services to others, engage in corrupt practices of all kinds. The common corrupt practices include food adulteration, spurious medicines, fake documents and degrees, dishonesty in quality, quantity and weight of sold goods, not fully honouring business commitments on time and bribing officials to cover up illegal practices or use of public property for personal advantage.

In Pakistan, corruption and deceit starts at the level of common people and goes up to the high corridors of political and bureaucratic power. Therefore, it cannot be controlled, not to speak of elimination, in a short span of time. Nor should one expect that the leaders of today would be the replica of the rulers of the earliest days of Islam. If society is so corrupt, the leaders cannot be angels. Forget about the ideal notion of puritanical honesty.

Do recognise human failings as well as the inability of the state to ensure minimum guarantees for reasonable living to the people.

The immediate target should be improvement of the situation by balancing the pressures and problems of the people with the imperatives of a corruption-free society. The beginning has to be made at the individual level, i.e. honesty and fair play in personal and professional life, rather than giving sermons to others on these issues. Use the power of the ‘vote’ to reject the known corrupt and dishonest people. Electoral accountability has more enduring impact than anything else.

The existing accountability processes should be strengthened and made more nonpartisan and transparent. Like the parliamentarians, all civil and military officials should publicly declare their assets. The media and the education system should emphasise the values of honesty, fair play and socio-economic justice.

Corruption cannot be controlled through the present-day partisan and propagandist approach of the political parties. They need to work together for evolving credible and all-embracing strategies rather than using the demand for promoting honesty and fair play as an instrument in their power struggle, protecting allies and engaging in negative campaigns against their political adversaries.

The writer is a political and defence analyst

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