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January 14, 2021

Fighting corruption

Opinion

January 14, 2021

Even though Pakistan has the potential for achieving high levels of economic growth, it is still an economically weak country with rising inflation and a high rate of unemployment. Its government is almost always out of funds and has to rely on friendly neighbouring countries or financial institutions, which are famous for their strict terms and conditions, for loans. Pakistan’s total debt of Rs44.5 trillion should ideally mean that the country is using, or has used, this amount in financing development projects that will contribute towards strengthening the overall economy of the country.

The disappointing reality is that Pakistan still doesn’t have any development projects. The reason for this sorry state is corruption. Almost everyone knows Pakistan is not free from corruption. However, contrary to what many people think, corruption is not limited to a few people. Every organisation that has a weak system of checks and balances is facing this problem.

In August 2020, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) – in a welcome move – took notice of a Rs2 billion mega corruption case. Officers of the District Accounts Office (DAO) Hyderabad were allegedly involved in it. It seems to be one of the biggest corruption scandals in Sindh. This large-scale corruption was carried out very cleverly under the pension head. An individual who wasn’t the DAO employee was in charge of overseeing the pension section. This illegal appointment led DAO officers to easily misappropriate funds. They continued distributing the money from pension funds to unauthorised people. This case is one example of how the corrupt mafia was able to steal billions of rupees between 2007 and 2017. One wonders where the higher authorities were during the last 10 years. Why didn’t they take any action to curb this malpractice?

Many people might wonder how the officers were able to open multiple accounts. The preliminary investigation found out that a majority of these dubious accounts that were used to transfer the stolen money were under the names of the poor and working people of Dadu and Johi. These people, who were not literate enough to understand financial technicalities, were even unaware of the fact that they had accounts under their names which were being used for illegal transactions. (Many people get their employees and domestic help to open bank accounts so that they can use it for such illegal transactions and escape the vigilant eyes of the authorities). In this case, too, the people who had no control over their financial decisions were used as pawns by the corrupt. The main takeaway is that the corrupt officers used financial technicalities for the misappropriation of funds. On the organisation’s financial statements, these illegal transactions were masquerading as the legal and genuine payments to pensioners.

Pakistan needs to revamp its system of checks and balances in every organisation to tackle corruption. Even though not all transactions can be verified, the relevant authorities must take appropriate steps to curb such incidents of corruption. Strengthening NAB and making it free from any kind of political interference is the need of the hour. There must be a speedy and fair process of accountability so that other corrupt people get a strong message. NAB’s ‘Corruption-free Pakistan’ slogan should be strictly implemented across the country to strengthen Pakistan. Our dream of becoming a self-reliant and developed country can never turn into a reality unless we take strict action against people involved in corrupt practices.

The writer is a freelance contributor.