Pakistan has been combating corruption since its inception – but, by all accounts, not with a strong commitment. As per Transparency International’s annual reports, we were one of the three most corrupt countries in the world in the mid-1990s and today we stand 61st on this list.
Pakistan scored 32 on the Global Perception Index 2016 as compared to its scores of 27, 28, 29, and 30 on the same scale in the previous consecutive four years. This shows that we are moving in the right direction – albeit at a slow pace.
The Panama and Bahamas leaks indicate that the opacity in the world’s financial system is a great hindrance in the path of fighting corruption, especially in the developing countries. The leaks also exposed some embezzlers among our elite that have been enriching themselves at the expense of the interests of the public. Instead of making claims that corruption has no place in the country, the government should admit that it remains a daunting challenge and requires a special attention.
NAB – which labels itself as the main crusader against corruption – is inadvertently promoting corruption through its plea bargain and voluntary return schemes. There is limited risk and more benefit for officials in embracing corrupt practices. Many among the corrupt officials were recently cleared of the charges against them when they struck plea bargain deals with NAB.
Corruption weakens people’s confidence in the political system, hampers rule of law and democracy and impedes the free market by dampening competition. In a corrupt society, people do not report violence, crimes, and grievances because they have little faith in the system and are likely to be sceptical of the dispensation of real justice.
According to the assessments of the World Bank and the World Economic Forum, annual losses caused by corruption around the world amount to almost $2.6 trillion and about $1 trillion are paid in bribes each year. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s daily losses amount to a staggering $133 million.
It is not an easy task to tackle corruption. A step-by-step approach is needed. The principles of an open government should be adopted where every citizen has the right to access information and officials are accountable to the public. Press freedom, personal freedom and an independent judiciary are essential to tackle corruption practically. Criminalising corruption and prescribing severe punishment for its perpetrators are among the other measures which would certainly prove to be significant. Grand corruption – which is committed at a high level and involves the distortion of national policies for private gains – should be made punishable with prolonged imprisonment and heavy fines.
Exploring what makes other countries less corrupt is also essential so that efficient and hard-hitting policies are formulated accordingly. Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, and Sweden – which are the least corrupt countries in the world – boast almost 100 percent literacy rates.
In Denmark, ministers are required to publish monthly reports about their spending on expeditions and presents. In Sweden, the public is allowed to evaluate the management of public funds by the government. The people of Sweden were given the right to access official documents in 1776 – a right which was denied to us till 2013 and in many cases still not given. According to the US constitution, corruption is one of the two explicit crimes which can result in the impeachment of the president.
We must develop a comprehensive strategy to tackle corruption. Transparency is of vital importance to eliminate this menace. It will help ensure that officials, civil servants and businessmen execute their responsibilities publically. It builds the people’s trust in the state and its institutions and strengthens democracy. The bureaucracy should make use of modern technology and put an end to red-tapism.
Vigorous contact among the stakeholders should be established and formal means of communication need to be minimised so that the decision-making process is accelerated. This would help suppress corrupt practices. Abolishing corruption is a gargantuan task and should be tackled by our establishment and politicians in a spirited manner.