The latest ‘National Corruption Perception Survey-2010’ of Transparency International Pakistan-the local partner of global not for profit conglomerate striving to eradicate corruption around the globe, should be an eye opener for all of us. What is more alarming is that democracy has failed to root out corruption; rather the scope of it is increased manifold. In this perspective, our political leadership should now mend its ways as Pakistani media has emerged as a powerful deterrent force to expose ruling clique’s corrupt practices.
While the Pakistan chapter of TI has indicated a whopping increase in corruption during the present regime, from Rs. Rs.195 billion in 2009 to Rs.223 billion in 2010, it should be a matter of concern for the rulers that 70 percent of Pakistanis believe that present government is more corrupt than the previous Musharraf led regime. I think public perception is a big indicator about government’s credibility and popularity. However, what is more interesting to note is that TI Pakistan has rated Punjab government as corruption-free in the whole country as 52.84 percent people termed Punjab as clean while newly declared province of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa failed to chuck out past traditions of corruption and fraud. Even war against terror, it seems, has failed to differentiate present from the past.
Corruption weakens every state institution including democracy and the rule of law. It is one of the most serious obstacles to reducing poverty as it denies poor the fundamental right of survival, forcing them to spend more on bribe to survive. It also encourages a system where rich and the mighty becomes more rich and mighty while the institutions of police, justice and accountability are weakened. This results in price-hike, deteriorating law and order, weakening of institutions, polarization in civil society and mismanagement of resources. No state with a corrupt state system has ever progressed in entire human history and Pakistan is no exception to it.
In fact, corruption has emerged as a big issue in Pakistan since the restoration of democracy in 1988; but no serious steps are ever taken to curb it. Starting from political corruption, to bribery and nepotism, our country is infested with all sorts of vices including dishonesty and inefficiency. We are also hypocrite and corruption has been taken as an accepted reality. The collective mindset believes that our country is anarchic and unmanageable. Decay of institutions is on the rise and Musharraf regime gave further impetus to this process. Even the institution of bureaucracy which inherited its traditions of incorruptibility, public service and credibility from the British Raj and the frequent interventions of democratic process has failed to improve the situation.
Corruption happens because of lack of political will, and where it is present, as is the case of public sector departments, is because of lack of high quality effective information and outreach systems. Petty corruption either happens because of collusion between the corrupt official and his boss or because the supervisor does not have good quality information system to accurately knows what is going on in his/her command. Officials in remote corners of the districts, or even right under the nose of the supervisory officers, exploit this distance to extort money from citizens for ordinary transactions like issuance of driving license etc.
Corruption is of two types in Pakistan; one is mutually agreed i.e., people giving money for the sake of getting some favor like getting arms license, domicile and registry deed, registration of FIR etc and the other is one that is given out of compulsion to corrupt high-ups to get the legitimate favor from the government, like the registration of FIR, setting up of new industry or payment of taxes etc. It is estimated that about Rs. 500 billion are annually lost due to corruption infested infrastructure in Pakistan. Throwaway privatization of state assets, politically backed white collar crimes and rulers’ never-ending appetite for power and money, has virtually made Pakistan a heaven for crime where high and mighty can go scot free due to their influence and weak institution of justice.
However, success of lawyers’ movement, signing of charter of democracy between late Benazir Bhutto & Nawaz Sharif and restoration of independent judiciary is a new hope for corruption free Pakistan as higher judiciary has started to implement its judicial policy which ensures zero tolerance for any corruption in any tier of judiciary. Vibrant media is another hope for the hapless 170 million people of Pakistan. Pakistan can get rid of corruption to a great extent by strengthening its media and improving judiciary and accountability systems.
In this backdrop, the efforts of Punjab Chief Minister Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif to bring in a viable system of good governance should be praise-worthy to say the least. What is important to note is that there is a political coalition in the province and some ministerial slots are also lying vacant. Despite that, he is single-handedly trying to make the government system people-friendly with the launching of projects like Sasti Roti Scheme, Green Tractor Scheme, raise in salaries of police and lower judiciary, recruitment of police constables and 40,000 educators on merit and endowment fund for the poor students.
Mr. Shahbaz Sharif has shown to the people that one man can change the system. His direction is correct, he seems committed and dedicated. However, what he needed is to set up a composite system of good governance where state should be answerable to the people and poor could equally benefit from the fruits of democracy as no democratic system can work without ensuring equal access to state resources.
Good governance should not be limited to a political mantra but it should emerge as an elixir of hope for the hopeless. This is the only lesson, we all need.