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Opinion

June 15, 2016

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Our corruption challenge

Corruption is endemic in Balochistan’s public sector. People see it as an inevitable part of life and many view it as having been institutionalised, with little effort being made to contain it.

The recent drive against corruption has raised hopes and expectations, but there are also many who suspect that the corrupt elite prefer to be arrested and go through the National Accountability Bureau’s ‘dry cleaning process’ known as plea-bargaining. All you have to do is deposit a meagre portion of the looted money and come out clean, and then spend a portion of the looted wealth to get elected on a much higher political position in the country.

Posting and transfers on lucrative positions are all up for sale in the open market. The recent arrest of the chairman of the Balochistan Public Service Commission is evidence of this fact. Projects that only exist on file are a decades-old practice in conflict-stricken Balochistan where the means of verification are systematically restricted. Contractors are forced to pay different amounts during different phases of the allocated project; this money travels from the level of clerk and sub-engineer to secretary, minister and above.

Sixty percent of development-related funds are consumed in corruption and bribes, 20 percent is spent on actual work and 15-20 percent for contractors who work for profit.

Corruption within the security forces is also very common, with the result that security, the protection of people’s property and basic human rights are at risk.

According to the UNDP’s 2004 Anti-Corruption Practice Note, corruption undermines rule of law and leads to the violation of human rights by fostering an anti-democratic environment characterised by uncertainty, unpredictability, declining moral values and disrespect for constitutional institutions and authority.

Corruption is not an issue of individual behaviour nor is it limited to individual or group damage. Corruption is the enemy of justice and fuels social instability, collective frustration and violence. It exposes households and individuals to a constant erosion of income and asset-related resources, since people are often forced to dispose of their assets in order to obtain cash to bribe officials. This has led to a decline in confidence in the government.

Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the UN, put the cost of corruption succinctly in his foreword to the 2004 United Nations Convention Against Corruption. Calling corruption an “insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies”, he added that it “diverts funds intended for development, undermines the ability of governments to provide basic services, feeds inequalities and injustice and discourage foreign aid investment.”

The conflict in Balochistan is complex, and also involving an imbalanced security structure. The problem of corruption has not exactly been helped with the immense powers granted to the security apparatus which is also perceived to interfere with political arrangements to shape the provincial assembly.

Since the 1980s, the FC has been granted powers under the Customs Act to control and monitor the economic, trade and border movements of the Baloch – a duty that is performed by the customs authorities in other provinces. There are more than 1,500 check-posts across Balochistan. The heavy deployment of the forces and their harsh attitude towards the population are considered by the Baloch population to be a hurdle in the way of growing economically, socially and politically.

The recent revelation and dismissal of top FC generals for involvement in corruption is an indication that at least some elements within the establishment may not be for a solution to the conflict that may empower transparent and genuine leadership to rule Balochistan. Many Baloch wonder that if the FC is going to perform all state functions – such as policing, customs and border security – then why even have the police, provincial governments and other state institutions?

Systematic and institutionalised corruption is a major challenge to sustainable development in Balochistan. The erosion of human rights and respect for constitutional authority hinders all sincere efforts to alleviate conflict and increase human security.

While the impact of corruption is particularly tragic in the case of the poorest people in Balochistan, fighting corruption is a national concern because corruption is found in all institutions and sectors in all provinces – albeit in varying forms and magnitude.

It is evident that corruption has significantly contributed to state failure and governance in the country. It has contributed to instability and the eruption of civil wars over resources in Balochistan, Sindh and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata.

The experience of many countries that are undergoing or have emerged from conflict shows that corruption is a dominant factor in driving fragile countries to state failure. Corruption can lead to, and sustain, violent conflict in the context of patrimonial regimes that are degenerating under local or regional shocks and pressures for market reform.

To avoid the further erosion of public institutions and the exacerbation of conflict which could obstruct sustainable development and have a spill-over effect, Pakistan must discourage and dismantle all policies that encourage systematic corruption.

Corruption is principally a governance issue and is a challenge for Pakistan, particularly for the fragile province of Balochistan. The current situation is due to the failure of institutions and the larger framework of the social, judicial, political and economic checks and balances that are needed for effective governance. When these formal and informal institutional systems are severely weakened by corrupt practices, it becomes harder to implement and enforce laws and policies that ensure accountability and transparency.

It is increasingly being realised that success in meeting sustainable development and peace in Pakistan will depend on both the ‘quality’ of democratic governance and the generation and management of financial resources.

The writer is a former senator from Balochistan. Email: [email protected]

 

 

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