The corruption mantra

The News

Corruption has been a buzzword in Pakistan’s politics over the years. Probably, no political entity has used the word ‘corruption’ more than the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

In the last two decades, Mr Khan repeatedly proclaimed that corruption is the mother of all ailments in Pakistan and an impediment to the country’s development.

So is it corruption that is undermining Pakistan’s development? Transparency International defines corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. Corruption is a universal problem, not restricted to any particular country or region. Of course, the level of corruption may vary from one part of the world to another. However, no country around the globe is totally free of corrupt practices. Even the developed world like the US and Western Europe are no exception.

For instance, Jeff Bozos, the richest man on earth, spared no effort to evade taxes through different loopholes under the federal tax regime. Similarly, there have been instances in the last few years whereby multinationals like Siemens, Wal-Mart, Total SA, GlaxoSmithKline, Alactel and many other bigwigs were found involved in corrupt practices worth millions of dollars. In these scams, when unearthed from time to time, the respective countries penalized these big names without making any unnecessary hue and cry. As a result, these companies not only suffered due to the heavy fines imposed by the concerned regulators but their share prices also fell down considerably.

So realistically speaking, it is not even possible for the most developed countries of the world to completely eliminate the corruption. Yet, the developed world has been able to minimize corruption level to a bare minimum through institutional framework. But the point to really ponder is that corrupt practices did not deter the Western world from development.

Now, coming back to Pakistan, it’s been almost two years that the PTI has been in power. During these two fateful years, the corruption discourse proved to be nothing but rhetoric. Ironically, for the past two decades, the nation was being convinced persistently by the PTI that once the country is led by an honest leader corruption would automatically be eliminated. And that then tax collection would get a quantum jump up and dollars would be sent home by overseas Pakistanis. Sadly, this was not to be. The diasporic dollars did not find Pakistan. And the IMF dollars that arrived had a heavy price tag.

Similarly, the PTI’s supreme leader used to tell the electorate that the depreciation of our currency signified a corrupt government at the helm. At present, the Pakistani currency is touching a new low – 168 rupees against a dollar, the lowest performing currency in South Asia. The growth rate has gone into the negative for the very first time in Pakistan’s history; it has touched almost 6 percent back in 2018.

All major economic indicators in the last two years are showing negative trends. In simple words, it won’t be wrong to say that things are not working out well for Pakistan’s economy and it has virtually come to a grinding halt.

Interestingly, the PTI leadership is still not ready to embrace the ground realities. Despite this poor performance, the prime minister and his few faithful lieutenants continue to issue the same old statements as they used to before coming into power. They are somehow suffering from a self-righteous syndrome. And a few ministers and special assistants to the prime minister seem to know everything on earth – except their own work. For instance, Federal Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid Ahmed does TV shows and press conferences almost on a daily basis predicting the future landscape of Pakistan’s politics but the only thing he can never predict is the fate of poor railways for which he is being paid.

The irresponsible statements by the PTI’s top leadership, labeling everyone in the country part of a mafia, won’t do any good to them and to the country. The latest example that can be cited is the statement issued by Federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan regarding the fake licences of Pakistani pilots on the floor of parliament without investigating the issue. As a result, the aviation industry of Pakistan became a laughing stock in the eyes of the entire world. The European Union, UK and the US have already imposed flying restrictions on PIA.

Now, the director general of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is denying the allegations leveled by the said minister. But the damage that has been done to the already struggling aviation industry of Pakistan cannot be undone. Surprisingly, the minister for aviation hasn’t resigned as yet nor has the prime minister fired him.

After having entered the power corridors, Mr Khan seems to have forgotten all those lessons which he claimed to have learned from the British system of democracy during his long stay in Britain. The essence of true democracy lies in institution-building and continuous reforms. It is by no means the job of the prime minister and his ministers to bully their opponents all the time in the name of corruption and accountability. Every second day, we hear the minister for railways breaking the news as to who is next on NAB’s radar. Thus, NAB’s credibility is further undermined which is already not up to the desired standards.

The irony is that the PTI leadership continues to be in a state of denial. The mantra of corruption may have worked well in bringing them to power but it may not last if they continue with the same as the people of Pakistan are fed up with their style of governance.

What the PTI needs to understand is that corruption is just a symptom and not the cause of the actual problems holding back Pakistan’s development. Unless we reform and restructure our institutions, we won’t be able to tread the path which leads to a sustained development.

The writer heads the Research Institute of Development and Evaluations (RIDE), Islamabad.

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