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Redefining corruption

Practicing a frugal lifestyle and strict institutional dealing with malpractices is the only way out of corruption mess

Redefining corruption

In an interesting move, the Sindh Assembly legislated to repeal the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Ordinance 1999. As per the lawmakers’ assertion, the provincial legislature was well within its rights to adopt a course of action towards dealing with corruption as it deemed appropriate.

Earlier, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), investigating Panama leaks matters related to the first family, remained at the centre stage of media and analysts’ attention. While going after illegally acquired and transacted wealth by those in power is vital, there are other important dimensions related to corruption. The fact that about one per cent of Pakistani population is direct tax payers should cause huge concern for our federal revenue bodies.

According to a NAB official, US $133 million are lost in corruption in the country on a daily basis. This fact should cause sleepless nights to the concerned amongst the ruling clique. Objective review of corruption has become unthinkable in our society. Those who attempt to blow the whistle on corruption are dealt with contempt. Interestingly, all the overt and covert stakeholders in the power corridors bear the same view on this count.

The criticism of corruption is considered as an attack on the newly resurrected democracy in the country. The regimes at the national and provincial levels appear to steer clear of all tangible efforts that could eradicate corruption in an effective manner.

In order to move forward, the various dimensions of corruption must be comprehended. As a basic definition, corruption can be defined as the acts of deviation by an individual or group of people from the stipulated roles and responsibilities for self benefit. Political corruption is considered as actions in which government officials, political functionaries or employees seek illegitimate personal gains. Bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, patronage, embezzlement and rent seeking are few commonly prevailing ailments.

According to a NAB official, US $133 million are lost in corruption in the country on a daily basis. This fact should cause sleepless nights to the concerned amongst the ruling clique. Objective review of corruption has become unthinkable in our society.

Professional domains are infested with corruption also. Disregarding the standards, ethical and technical demands of any profession in the delivery of service to the society is tagged as professional corruption. Wrongdoings of doctors, engineers, accountants, auditors, lawyers, architects and real estate experts fall in this slot. Ordinary people also become a vehicle of corruption, both knowingly and otherwise. A common attitude to keep silent after observing any illegal or inappropriate act also falls under this category.

For objective assessment of corruption, the intent and motivation behind it must be found out. Study of precedents unveils such motives. Complying with illegal orders, living beyond means, sporting a lavish lifestyle, supporting folks of native clan, cadre or party are few of the common reasons that lead to corruption of various forms.

However the financial corruption — which is perhaps the most rampant of all — evolves from the desire to adopt ostentatious living beyond the available legitimate means. It is a common observation to find people in responsible positions and roles guilty of this misconduct which is callously overlooked by power wielders. A cleric, who is in active politics, can be found living in a huge mansion in any of high streets of the capital. Prior to his gainful entry into politics, the same soul was confined to the rustic walls of a madrassah. As our generals retire from service now, they have enough to survive for ages without looking for a post-retirement employment. Assets built and rewards endowed are enough to let their future generations live in pomp and style.

A Grade-17 officer in a ‘sensitive’ department can be found driving an imported luxury jeep worth millions of rupees. He may not be officially entitled to a vehicle! Green number plate sedans and luxury cruisers are all on the rise. It will be difficult to tag Pakistan as a low income country if one visits the federal or provincial secretariats during the day time.

Corruption cannot be controlled unless the social environment around us shall continue to respect embezzlers of public funds, rent seekers and the likes as sacred cows. This category of privileged individuals and their extended classes amend financial management procedures and decision-making in their favour. Fixation of salaries and perks of the occupants of the three sacred houses on the Constitution Avenue in Islamabad is an example.

Gone are the times when ruling elites used to curtail their daily appetite in situations of famines, disasters or emergency. It is ironic to note that the media, opinion leaders and political parties do not consider financial accountability as a worth enforcing agenda. Honest officers and politicians are hardly celebrated as role models. Contrarily, they are tagged as losers and out of fashion breed no longer in consonance with the present day requirements.

The ideas and practices about anti-corruption moves have been very weird, to say the least! Several approaches have been tried and tested in the past. Once a regime came and declared all the politicians as corrupt. Circumstances proved that majority were not. Successive regimes would level charges and file cases through institutional arrangements best suited to their political camps. More than witch hunting, the exercise could not achieve much. At a later stage, the practice of plea bargain started.

Large scale looters and plunderers were hounded up. When they agreed to return a fraction of the gains, they were set free. The example of a former naval chief is a case in point who was accused of corruption but later ‘dry cleaned’ after he returned some of the fruits of the loot. It gave a message that one should always go for the big kill to share some leftover crumbs for the regulators!

No amount of aid or external assistance can solve our financial woes. Practicing a frugal lifestyle and strictly dealing with malpractices in an institutional manner is the way out. Work of right minded regulators such as Competition Commission of Pakistan can serve as worth emulating case studies. Corruption can be fought in a strategic manner by certain basic steps. The foremost is the identification of corrupt practices. Our media corps is doing a meticulous job in this respect.

Existing institutional framework may be approached to seek redress of grievances pertinent to corrupt practices. Proactive citizen’s action has always been useful in fighting corruption.

Dr Noman Ahmed

Noman Ahmed
The author is Chairperson of Department of Architecture and Planning at NED University, Karachi. He can be reached at [email protected]

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