Money Matters

Righting the rot

Money Matters
By Sirajuddin Aziz
Mon, 09, 19

Perhaps a very different subject, than my regular management related- topics, but certainly of great current significance and relevance. It’s a subject that pervades through government, public sector, and private sector enterprises. It wouldn’t be an assumption to state it is a flourishing subject in all segments of economy and society. Also, it is most befitting during the current times when corruption is on the rise and conscience is on a decline.

Perhaps a very different subject, than my regular management related- topics, but certainly of great current significance and relevance. It’s a subject that pervades through government, public sector, and private sector enterprises. It wouldn’t be an assumption to state it is a flourishing subject in all segments of economy and society. Also, it is most befitting during the current times when corruption is on the rise and conscience is on a decline.

In order to create the perspective of relevance and understanding, the oxford definition of corruption is “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery” and an alternative definition is, “the process by which a word or expression is changed from its original state to one regarded as erroneous or debased”. The attending synonyms are, deceit, duplicity, deception, manipulation, fabrication, forging, etc. The canvas is large and wide.

Although the bedrock of financial corruption is the corruption of the mindset and morality, but in this piece, the intent is to remain focused on financial corruption and not corruption of the mind, morality or even intellectual corruption. It is therefore likely that all facets of corruption, with their unique manifestations will somehow, because of the interrelatedness, seep into this piece.

Conscience is divinity within, it never makes mistakes; but intellect, rationale, logic and knowledge, often err. It is only evil ambitions that corrupt good manners. Dealing in dirt cannot keep the fingers clean.

Conscience has nothing to do with any form of government; democratic, autocratic, authoritative etc, but corruption coexists with every type and form of government; some formats facilitate its promotion. Attributed to Zoroaster is a wonderful remark that goes: “Conscience the higher mind, awoke in me, shook me and questioned me: think careless one! Who are you? I ask you? Why are you here? “. Conscience ought to be the frame of character.

Since times immemorial, poverty and inflation led financial corruption has been held, by the indulgent ones as a necessity for a “decent” living. There is many a folklore relating to the Mughal dynasty era, where the ignorant monarch was made to accept that the financially corrupt elements are actually a need for a balance in the society. The land reforms of Raja Todar Mal, fell prey to this thought as well. It is my belief that the “power of the patwari” began in South Asian subcontinent around that time. A semiofficial recognition, by turning a blind eye, became and continues to be a norm for corruption. In some jurisdictions, concepts like “dash” or “speed money” given as bribe are actually tax deductible!

Bribe has no barriers, it always finds its way; an amazing characteristic of it is, the ability to surmount, all obstacles. Barring gates of heaven, gold (read bribe) will enter with no resistance anywhere else.

Neither bribe, nor lose thy right. Clear conscience does not fear the knock on the door at midnight. If one is right, he fears none. Clear conscience sleeps in thunder claps. As it is said, pure conscience is the softest pillow to sleep upon. The effect speaks, the tongue needs not. A man of words is usually a garden of weeds. No amount of vehement denials ever convinces the investigating agencies; getting into its custody is no recognition. The Churchillian V (victory) sign gestured outside courthouses and jail premises by the murderers, looters and plunderers cannot mask reality. An ill wound is cured, but not an ill name. Guilty conscience needs no accuser. The “smile” of the fraudulent is the deception; guilt of a misdeed is to live in fear in perpetuity. Fair words and foul play cheat wise men, fools, and both the young and old. Only National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is the difference here!

Entering upon the land where justice is dispensed, said a lawyer, sorry, nay the devil, home is home. Have the readers ever wondered why small time thugs are hanged only, because the great ones, will always have the men, by their sides, who will show them the law. When one roams with the wolves, one amazingly acquires the howling habit too.

Our present day history of corruption is being chronicled on ice slabs; all corrupt practices melt away, under the guise of plea bargains. It is a very profitable deal to pay to the exchequer 4-15 percent of ill-gotten wealth and keep the rest as baptized and kosher wealth. If you let go of conscience, then be prepared to bid farewell to the tranquil mind. Lord Byron, lived much before the creation of our (mine) beloved country, but said he in 1799 AD, “No ear can hear or tongue can tell the tortures of the inward hell”. I do often wonder if the now several guests of our premier investigating agency are experiencing Byron’s thoughts!

Intoxicated with power and pelf, the human mind ignores the fact that when you do wrong, you will never hear the end of it. Always the good transactions lie dead and one single ill-deed is published far and wide.

Conscience with many is the weakest, when it is needed most. There is no greater insurance from corruption than innocence. Stand up for conscience not for expediency. No amount of good deeds or even dispensation of container loads of charity can alter faults of corruption.

Recently, as read by the scribe in print media, the cabinet approved some high-end project that ran into billions. An RFP (Request for Proposal) had to be raised, for which purpose, the relevant department had to put up an address for receiving the proposals. All officials of all ministries refused to lend their address to this document (RFP) -this wasn’t done as a matter of maintenance of clean conscience, but out of fear, that a future government may set upon them the investigating agency to look for possible corruption in the award of the contract. The refusal wasn’t conscience-driven but fear-based. If Imran Khan had not been unrelentingly pursing his agenda for zero tolerance to corruption, these very officials would have been head over heels to have their respective ministries address, included as part of RFP. Avoiding corruption because of fear of law is very different from a conscious decision that is rooted firmly in the dominant good conscience.

No institution, either government or privately-owned is “free” of financial corruption. Visit any counter of any government agency for any work within the ambit of legality, nothing will be done, unless the palms are greased and oiled properly -It has become a norm. The “giver” and the “taker”, remain guiltless. While our teachings expound to us that the giver and taker are equal accomplices in the criminal act of bribery -of late, the society has accepted to “only” look down upon the “taker” and not the “giver”. This is best understood by recalling what was said in a television programme, by a real estate tycoon -in his terminology, he proudly proclaimed that his projects never get delayed because he places “wheels” under the files, for their smooth navigation through the various levels of hierarchy. Dismayed! I am not. At least not because of the tycoon as it is the lifter of the file, who facilitates the placement of “wheels” under it. If the “lifter” had simply declined to with it, all corruptive practices would come to an end.

The exchequer is essentially the fruit, the worms are inside it - devouring at will. An Italian proverb (Which is no surprise for its origination), “Public money is like holy water, everyone helps himself to it”. Exceptions happen where the visit of the head of state to the US climbs down from half-a-million dollars and some change to mere $67,000/-. Indeed a rarity, but thankfully true.

In the corporate world, there is a white collar crime in the award of contracts for supplies, rent negotiations, purchase of real estate, equipment, etc. it is always recounted in the offices that the fish starts rotting from the head and the ice melts from the top. The numero uno position holder in an organisation sets the tone for good conscience to prevail over temptation to indulge in corruptive behaviour.

The good story is that the corrupt ones, a tiny fraction, are on the run; the clean conscience possessors are in majority. They just need to assert and help Prime Minister Khan. Cowardice in a corrupt society becomes a close friend and associate of the clean conscience. The day, the majority will rise and refuse to be cowed down by the corrupt elements, we will see the emergence of Quaid’s true Pakistan. Corruption is cheap. Conscience is expensive.

Just keep listening to that tune constantly playing inside, whose lyrics are, “something is out of tune”.

The writer is a senior banker and a freelance columnist