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October 14, 2018

White-collar crime

Opinion

October 14, 2018

White-collar crime is a “crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation”. White-collar crime is said to have three characteristics: it is non-violent; it is financially motivated; it is committed by “business and government professionals”.

Is white-collar crime really ‘non-violent’? Violence is defined as “behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something”. For the record, the government of Pakistan buys goods and services worth $60 billion or Rs7.5 trillion a year every year. Estimates vary, but around 50 percent of Rs7.5 trillion is siphoned off by white-collar criminals.

Is white-collar crime really ‘non-violent’? Here’s the record: 290,000 newborn Pakistanis die every year before the end of their first month; 175,000 Pakistani children die annually due to premature birth; and 53,000 Pakistani children die of diarrhoea caused by contaminated water every year. Pakistan is the “riskiest country for newborns – riskiest in the world”.

Is white-collar crime really ‘non-violent’? Take the New Islamabad International Airport as an example. The original cost estimate was Rs23 billion. The total amount spent was Rs100 billion. Just how much is Rs77 billion? The cost of building Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre was Rs4 billion. With Rs77 billion, 19 such hospitals can be built all through Pakistan.

Just how much is Rs77 billion? The Citizens Foundation – Pakistan’s “largest non-profit, privately owned networks of low-cost formal schools” –builds a primary school at a cost Rs17 million. With Rs77 billion, we can build 4,500 such schools.

Just how much is Rs77 billion? According to the Pakistan Education Statistics 2016-17, there are “22.84 million [Pakistani] children still out of school”. With Rs77 billion, we can educate more than five million Pakistani children.

In Pakistan, the FIA and NAB are the agencies responsible for prosecuting white-collar criminals. The conviction rate at the FIA is 6.6 percent. In 2017, a total of 26,551 complaints were filed with NAB, of which 456 complaints (two percent of the total) were taken to the ‘inquiry stage’. Of the 456 ‘inquiries’, 215 were ‘investigated’. Of the 215 ‘investigations’, a total of 112 were convicted.

Question: Can NAB deliver on its mandate? Answer: Probably not – not without massive capacity enhancement. Question: Can the FIA deliver? Answer: Probably not – not without massive capacity enhancement. In order to deliver the two requirements are: intention plus capacity. I have no doubt in my mind that the intention exists – both at NAB and the FIA. The problem is that of capacity – both at NAB and the FIA. Yes, sentencing white-collar defendants is extremely challenging around the world – and more so in Pakistan.

White-collar crime kills but “prosecutors fear prosecuting powerful defendants”. What then is the solution? One, wholesale capacity enhancement of NAB and the FIA. Or, an alternative out-of-the-box, non-conformist solution. To be certain, capacity enhancement takes place over the medium to long-term. For results over the short term, a solution that is beyond what is considered ‘usual, traditional or conventional’ must be found.

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @saleemfarrukh

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