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March 15, 2019

‘Jobbery likely outpaced economy in PTI’s seven months’

Business

March 15, 2019

LAHORE: As many as seven months into their term, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has not only been unable to spur the economic growth but also bring down the bribery rate that has certainly spiked because of their ‘all rhetoric and no action’ approach.

The bureaucracy has been paralysed as some if its players have been booked for their alleged past decisions on development projects that have not been proved in the courts.

The accountability seems to be one-sided as the investigators are trying to find fault with completion of Lahore Metro, which was completed below the budget and ahead of the schedule.

They are however completely ignoring the blunders committed in a similar project in Peshawar where the cost has already escalated to over Rs84 billion. The Lahore Metro project was completed at the cost of Rs32 billion.

Now it has been found that there were some flaws in its design as at some places the road is so narrow that there’s barely enough room for two buses coming from the opposite directions to pass each other. Now the roads are being broaden at many places that would further add substantially to the cost.

This lopsided accountability has given heart to the bureaucrats, who cite the example of witch-hunting in Punjab to up the ante of the rate of bribery, while they feel safe that if they remained ‘in line’ they would not be prosecuted.

They however are stalling most of the decisions that they in the past have been taking freely to move things ahead.

Now they go exactly by the book and interpret every rule and regulation in a negative sense fearing that even the right decisions taken by them may land them in trouble in the future. The extraordinary delays in decision-making are causing huge losses to the exchequer.

In the past the lower cadre in the bureaucracy used to suggest the way out on many issues and it was endorsed by the upper echelons of hierarchy. Now that cadre hesitates to come forward with solutions fearing that it may be held against them if things went wrong.

The prosecution in some past cases has removed the distinction between a deliberate attempt to violate laws or a genuine decision taken in the best interest that went wrong.

In these circumstances the bureaucracy is going slowly on important decisions but that is also a blessing as the current bribe rate on routine matters has increased.

Up till now no action has been taken against bureaucrats that are involved in jobbery and the “baboos” are pretty sure it’s going to be that way down the line as well. But the perceived threat of accountability is highlighted when demanding speed money.

When Prime Minister instructs tax collecting machinery to nab tax evaders and increase revenue, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) starts conducting raids. In most cases the firm the taxmen raid is genuine tax defaulter or evader.

But in 90 percent cases they are ‘let off’ with minor penalties that justifies raids. There is a need to probe all these raids as there is a real possibility that the ‘low penalties’ are the result of a deal between the tax evaders and the collectors.

The records collected from the premises should be subjected to forensic audit and the reality would be out.

The bureaucrats are obeying the orders of the prime minister and are collecting huge rent from each raid.

Tax evasion in Pakistan is very high but if the additional revenues collected on confirmed information is very low one must not ignore the possibility of a deal.

Reforming bureaucracy is an uphill task. They have every trick up their sleeves to hoodwink the rulers. The parallel tax collection organisation would come from the same set of bureaucrats.

This would amount to establishing an anti-corruption body to probe the affairs and working of already established anti-corruption department. In fact there are numerous public sector bodies that were established to probe corruption including anti-corruption department, Federal Investigation Agency’s white collar crime wing and National Accountability Board. The bribe rates have increased with the addition of each new anti-corruption watchdog.

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