Lack of transparency

The News

The latest report on perceptions of corruption, released by the Berlin-based Transparency International, has – as it does each year – led to the release of angry words from both sides of the political fence.
While the Imran Khan government continues to insist that the data, as it calls it, provided in the report dates back to previous years and the period during which the PML-N government was in power, the opposition insists the report shows the PTI is more corrupt than its predecessor.
This is all based on an extremely poor understanding of how the Transparency International report is compiled and what it consists of. In the first place, the Transparency International document is not really a very good indicator of corruption, as pointed out by various experts. There are also some doubts about the manner in which it is put together. Essentially, the report does not use any data at all. So all the talk about data and figures being flung about in the country is completely inaccurate. We would have thought our leading politicians would at least have found the time to read and understand the document.
Transparency International uses various reports from the World Economic Forum, the World Bank, the Global Justice Project, and other organisations to gauge the situation of transparency and corruption within a country. This year, in Pakistan, the reason the country has sunk from number 120 on the list to number 124 is chiefly on the basis of a decline in democracy and the poor law and order situation as measured by two reports on global justice and on democracies around the world.
The simplest thing of all for the PTI government to do would have been for a spokesman to explain the manner in which the report is put together and how the numbers on it do not indicate any real increase in corruption at all. But there is a huge question mark over whether the report is actually read and if it is actually understood by the people who do attempt to read it – if such people exist. The need is to study the report but remember that it is not an absolute verdict of any kind on corruption.
The report has however led to various news channels playing clips from the past in which Imran Khan had promised to end corruption within 90 days and bring assets stolen from the country back to it. In retrospect of course, but even at the time for those with some foresight both of these claims are ridiculous. In the first place, it is impossible to end deeply entrenched corruption within 90 days. This process takes years and sometimes periods way beyond that.
In most cases, corruption cannot be ended entirely anyway, but levels of governance improved and more transparency created so that people are able to see what is happening and how funds are being used. We have an extremely opaque system in which much of the funding that goes out, especially to non-civilian sectors, is impossible to follow, and it is impossible to gauge how it is being used or abused.
In addition, recovering assets is not really a solution to corruption. While it may set an example, for one period of time, it does not really tackle the real issues of corruption and the various layers at which it exists. To do this, a far wider strategy is needed. Bringing assets back could merely be a starting point, perhaps, but not serve any particular purpose beyond that. Instead, we need to tackle the system as it exists and find ways to alter it.
This may seem initially like an impossible task. But there are examples from various towns in both Punjab and Sindh and from the deputy commissioner in Jhang, who showed that by acting firmly, by following all the rules, by refusing to violate regulations, and by penalising those who did so, as per the law, it was possible to bring in a far higher level of integrity.
Sadly, these examples were not followed up on. Perhaps no one has the real will to deal with corruption or to end it since so many are served by the existence of this means of making money easily and quickly, without recourse to anything resembling work, or investment, or any of the other more recognised means of gaining wealth.
If the example set by some bureaucrats had been pursued, or an attempt made to take the country back to where it stood in the 1950s, perhaps we would have had a better chance of dealing with corruption, rather than simply raising bombastic slogans about dragging out politicians who are corrupt or attempting to penalise them in all kinds of fashion which were intended simply to mislead people and create a kind of circus surrounding the issue of corruption.
We do not need drama but very real policies and very good understanding of how governments work, and how democracies exist. Certainly, it is a fallacy that suppressing dissent can in any way allow a government to work better, or give people more opportunity to prove where they stand. If people are allowed to voice opinions and express dissent, it becomes easier to unearth corruption and discover where it lies.
The same is true of wrongdoing of other kinds. Edward Snowden, the whistleblower on the US National Security Agency is an example. A quiet, law-abiding individual, he was so overcome by the degree to which the agency had begun to look into the affairs of private citizens and then, in some cases, even share pictures of their families and friends, that he decided to blow the whistle on the whole affair. The rest is history. We need to not suppress whistleblowers but allow them to give their opinions and voice the discontent with the system. Only if this is permitted will we be able to get to the bottom of all that is wrong with our society and our system of governance. It may not be easy to achieve this in a short period of time. But over a longer period, it can happen.
When we refuse people the right to speak and when there is a threat hanging over all those who dare to do so, then corruption can only grow and become more deeply embedded in the soil of the land. This is what has happened in our country. It will continue to gain stronger roots, no matter how many reports Transparency International puts out, or how many other reports are circulated, unless a real will is created in the country to deal with the problem without allowing the accountability body to become politicised.

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