A state of progressive depravity

Corruption cannot be controlled unless the society stops respecting embezzlers of public funds

A state of progressive depravity

Many term the recent verdict by a Karnataka Court verdict in a graft case against Chief Minister Jayalalithaa  Jayaram a landmark and worthy of thought by regimes and societies in the entire region. The popular chief minister of the southern Indian State of Karnataka was convicted of graft to the tune of $8.7 million.

As per available options, Jayalalithaa can appeal in the superior courts for review. But the point has been adequately made. No one is above the law and corruption charges can be probed and investigated even against a sitting chief executive of the province.

Our estranged leaders of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf have been staunchly campaigning for the same since the beginning of their historic sit-in in Islamabad. Imran Khan minced no words to illustrate prevailing rampant corruption in his well-articulated speech in Karachi on 21 September 2014. His tirade was targeted against the gentry and influential classes that rule and control public resources.

But in reality, the cancer has gone down far deeper! Various classes and ranks of functionaries have earned the notoriety of not moving unless gratified as per demands. Public officials and members of lower judiciary are perceived as the most corruption infested categories.

Majority of people believe that the government has been ineffective in curbing the menace of corruption. They are also not hopeful of any radical change in this direction. It is worked out that tax evasion has reached beyond a fifth of the total revenue targets. The loan default from premier banks has been largely concentrated within the politically powerful clans that control our national destiny through national and provincial elected houses.

Procurement of goods and services is largely done in violation of standard operating procedures. Transparency International (TI) informed that Pakistan ranks 127 in the Global Corruption Perception Report of 2013 -- a dismal low status. Such revelations do not go down well with the powers that be.

In the recent past, TI received scathing criticism on the ‘untimeliness’ of the release of such reports, often tagged as malicious, near tantamount to high treason. Rhetoric aside, objective review of corruption has become a taboo in our society. Those who attempt to blow the whistle on smelling corruption are dealt with contempt. Interestingly, all the overt and covert stakeholders in the power corridors bear the same view on this count.

The criticism on corruption is considered as an attack on the newly resurrected democracy in the country. Past and present regimes appear to steer clear of all tangible efforts that could eradicate corruption in an effective manner.

In order to move forward, the various dimensions of corruption must be comprehended. As a basic definition, corruption can be defined as the acts of deviation by an individual or group of people from the stipulated roles and responsibilities for self benefit. Political corruption is considered as actions in which government officials, political functionaries or employees seek illegitimate personal gains. Bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, patronage, embezzlement and rent seeking are few commonly prevailing ailments.

Professional domains are infested with corruption also. Disregarding the standards, ethical and technical demands of any profession in the delivery of service to the society is tagged as professional corruption. Wrongdoings by doctors, engineers, accountants, auditors, lawyers, architects and real estate experts fall in this slot. Ordinary people also become a vehicle of corruption, both knowingly and otherwise. A common attitude is to keep silent after observing any illegal or inappropriate act and that falls in this category.

For objective assessment of corruption, the intent and motivation behind it must be found out. Study of precedents unveils such motives. Complying with illegal orders, living beyond means, sporting a lavish life style, supporting folks of native clan, cadre or party are few of the common reasons that lead to corruption of various forms.

However the financial corruption -- which is perhaps the most rampant of all -- evolves from the desire to adopt ostentatious living beyond the available legitimate means. It is common observation to find people in responsible positions and roles guilty of this misconduct which is callously overlooked by power wielders.

A cleric, who is in active politics, can be found living in a huge mansion in any of high streets of the capital. Prior to his gainful entry into politics, the same soul was confined to the rustic walls of a madrass. As our generals retire from service now, they have enough to survive for ages without looking for a post-retirement employment. Assets built and rewards endowed are enough to let their future generations live in pomp and style.

A grade-17 officer in a ‘sensitive’ department can be found driving an imported luxury jeep worth millions of rupees. He may not be officially entitled to a vehicle! Green number plate sedans and luxury cruisers are all on the rise. It will be difficult to tag Pakistan as a low income country if one visits the federal or provincial secretariats during the day time.

Corruption cannot be controlled unless the social environment around us stops respecting embezzlers of public funds, rent seekers and the like as sacred cows. This category of privileged individuals and their extended classes amend financial management procedures and decision-making in their favour. Fixation of salaries and perks of the occupants of the three sacred houses on the Constitution Avenue in Islamabad is an example.

Gone are the times when ruling elites used to curtail their daily appetite in situations of famines, disasters or emergency. It is ironic to note that the media, opinion leaders and political parties do not consider financial accountability as a worth enforcing agenda. The honest officers and politicians are hardly celebrated as role models. Contrarily, they are tagged as losers and out of fashion breed no longer in consonance with the present day requirements.

The ideas and practices about anti-corruption moves have been very weird, to say the least! Several approaches have been tried and tested in the past. Once a regime came and declared all the politicians as corrupt. Circumstances proved that majority were not.

Successive regimes would level charges and cases through institutional arrangements best suited to their political camps. At a later stage, the practice of plea bargain started. Large scale looters and plunderers were hounded up. When they agreed to return a fraction of the gains, they were set free. It gave the message that one should always go for the big kill to share some left over crumbs for the regulators!

No amount of aid or external assistance can solve our financial woes. Practicing a frugal life style and strict dealing with malpractices in an institutional manner is the way out. Work of right minded regulators such as Competition Commission of Pakistan can serve as worth emulating case studies. Its work was lauded and appreciated by Global Competition Review in 2013.

Corruption can be fought in a strategic manner by certain basic steps. The foremost is the identification of corrupt practices. Our media corps is doing a meticulous job in this respect. The common people must assist the rightful journalists in identification of malpractices. Whistle blowing on corruption with valid evidences must be encouraged. Caution, however, need to be applied to differentiate facts from hearsay.

Existing institutional framework may be approached to seek redressal of grievances pertaining to corrupt practices. It may be pointed out that the proactive citizen’s action has always brought useful results.

A state of progressive depravity