Wednesday June 19, 2024

How to fix corruption

By Mansoor Ahmad
May 30, 2024
A person can be seen holding notes of Pakistani currency Rupee in his hands. — AFP/File
A person can be seen holding notes of Pakistani currency Rupee in his hands. — AFP/File

LAHORE: Corruption contributes to instability and poverty and is a dominant factor that is driving the Pakistani state towards failure. The main reason for the country’s failure in its fight against corruption is a lack of political will.

The existence or absence of rule of law is one institutional factor. But the lack of accountability is a form of incentive that let bribery thrive. If corruption, for example, was solely the result of individual wrongdoing, then governments could raise the penalties to the point where the risk of being caught outweighs the reward. Both for the receiver and giver of the bribe.

The quality of government is important. In Pakistan it is greatly affected by levels of corruption. In good governance, equal treatment is applied to everyone, regardless of the group to which one belongs. Government actions and institutions that violate these norms of impartiality and ethical universalism are corrupt.

In a highly politicized atmosphere, individualized prosecutions like the one we are selectively awarding to power thieves will not produce real reform. Only structural changes can accomplish lasting change. A reason why the fight against corruption is so protracted is the absence of will to punish allies for the same sin under which non-allies are punished.

Governments operate on the taxes they collect. We should enact a fair tax policy. The fact that a large number of people are out of the tax net shows that taxation here is not equal and fair. When people do not pay taxes, it implies that they do not care about corruption (in fact tax evasion is a corrupt practice). Our planners must understand that fairness of taxes is important under which the same income from any sector is equally taxed.

In fairly taxed countries like Scandinavia, corruption is extremely low despite high taxes and high public spending. Appointments without merit also promote corruption. The state must establish a meritocratic system for hiring people in the civil service. In Pakistan most public-sector jobs are filled through personal connections. Competence comes with merit, and it has a strong effect. Finally, we should take the issue of gender equality seriously. Credible research has shown that the higher the proportion of women in the public sector, the lower the corruption.

Corruption is deeply corrosive and paves the way for incompetence. It undermines good governance and eats away at public trust. A strong structure of corporate governance is needed to ensure business organizations operate sustainably. A good understanding of moral philosophy is a critical part of doing business ethically. A company that behaves with integrity can play a crucial role in stabilizing areas of conflict.

The corporate lobbying of the government, for example, is perfectly legal in most countries (lobbyists openly operate in our country where the corporate lobby is not allowed). It gives private interests undue influence to bend the framing of laws and regulations in their favour.

It must be clear that corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. Thus, corruption includes both accepting bribe in return for certifying an unsafe building and demanding bribe as a condition for approving a fully compliant structure.