By Akhtar Malik
Apart from having an impartial accountability bureau, a non-politicized police, an efficient investigating agency and a total transparency in dealing with financial matters, it is important that a societal restructuring is carried out in order to completely flush out corruption from Pakistan.
Ethical Dimensions and Political Expediency
The biggest hurdle in fighting corruption is the political expediency of the governments. The governments get blackmailed on this account by their MNA / MPA and others to accrue the illegal benefits and get the immunity from prosecution. This is the reason why all the anti corruption mechanisms have failed in Pakistan in the past including the NAB. It is really a fantastic task to ask a political government not to be influenced / pressurized by the corrupt people in the ruling party or its allies however a start can be made in this direction.
The strategy of fighting corruption has little chances of success if it is void of moral and ethical dimensions. Unfortunately the moral values and norm in our society have changed negatively over the past many decades. Money and its accumulation have attained the highest priority as with it everything else can be purchased. This is the reason why the corrupt persons are not now even ashamed of their ill gotten wealth. Any revolutionary party like PTI will have to take up on itself that the accumulation of money should be made an irrelevant and insignificant affair in the society. Once a system of social justice is in place in society whereby everyone is getting his/her due share in jobs, income, social amenities and facilities of life then there should be no need for going after the illegal means to accumulate wealth. After meeting the basic necessities of life all the surplus wealth should belong to those who don’t have it. This is also in consistence with the basic Islamic principles and teachings.
The ethical and moral grooming of all including the public and the state functionaries should go side by side and be demonstrated practically by setting personal examples. Apart from academic teachings in ethics it should form part of our social and official lives. Citizens should be given importance (protocol) in society based on their character, morality and virtues rather than the wealth and power. After all why shouldn’t we give the highest protocols to our teachers / researchers / scientists instead of the bureaucrats, as is being done in many developed countries? Once the corrupt persons know that the government is oblivious to the personal material gains they will not resort to their tactics. A government should prefer to resign rather than being blackmailed by the corrupt lobbies. It all may sounds unbelievable but is not bizarre. No one has ever tried it in Pakistan. Let us take the lead and at least start treading this difficult path. This has to be done in phases and in slow motion but we must take the initiative if we really want to build a new Pakistan as an Islamic welfare state. Though the last para 12 g of the paper touches this aspect under heading “Education on Ethics” but I propose that this concept should be inbuilt in any future strategy against corruption.
Tackling White-Collar Crimes
The second most difficult aspect is to identify, locate and prove the white-collar crimes that are the mainstay of the corrupt activities. Those who indulge in corruption are so clever that they hardly leave any tangible proof of their crime. For example in the award of a government construction contract the applications will be invited, tenders will be filled/opened and contracts will be awarded fully ‘in line’ with the procedures written in the books. The pre-audits and post audit reports will be clear of any discrepancy or irregularity. But a huge sum of public money would have been eaten up the looters. This is because all the settlements, bargains and monetary transactions will be done outside the ambit of the contractual activity. The courts need concrete proofs against the culprits which are normally not available. This is the reason that when a government or its any functionary is labeled as corrupt, the person would say very confidently, “Well no one can become corrupt by pointing finger or through media trial, if you have any proof then go to the court.” They know that their crime will never be proved. This is the reason why people remain in jails / detention for years on corruption charges and after being freed unscathed, claim to be ‘clean, innocent and a victim of political oppression’. The result is that the institutions are ruined, machinery is turned into scrap, people are rendered jobless / homeless, the government exchequer suffers huge financial loss, the national assets are sold out / privatized at throw-away prices, the institutions fear their closure, the government itself gets squeezed in the domestic and foreign debts and the persons responsible say shamelessly, “Go to the courts and prove our corruption.”
As the issue is complex and difficult to prove, it is suggested that some unconventional measures may also be made part of the strategy. A person who is appointed as head of a certain department like PIA, Railways or Pakistan Steel Mills, he and the other members of the board of directors should be selected on merit. All of them should accept this task as a challenge and their output be measured on the standards of market economy. They should be given a specific period of time, 6 months or 1 year, to show their performance. Following should be taken as indicators of corruption in any institution:
- If the institution starts showing improvement in its financial position as compared to the previous time period, however small the improvement may be, the performance of the managers should be taken in positive manner.
- If the financial situation of institution does not show signs of improvement or shows even a downward trend, the management will be considered either incompetent or corrupt
- If the financial situation slides drastically but the personal assets of the managers increases substantially, the persons will be decidedly declared as corrupt. Apart from other penalties the managers should be liable to make good the loss of institution through their personal resources.
The overriding indicator in all such cases will be the worsening situation of the institution and an ever inflating bank accounts / properties of their custodians.
Writing-off of Loans
This is one of the biggest sources of corruption in Pakistan. Writing off of loans should be prohibited by making a suitable legislation. Any amount exceeding a certain limit will have to be referred to High Court / Supreme Court before it could be condoned. The only way out for the defaulters of hefty loans should be confiscation selling out of their property and / or a jail term till they refund the amount. All avenues of funneling out public money should be blocked vigorously.
Any kind of special courts tend to be a hurdle in true dispensation of justice. They can be misused as well. Efforts should be made to keep the anti-corruption courts within the mainstream of the justice system (which otherwise needs a complete overhauling).
Vigilance and Monitoring Teams
The media is playing a dynamic role in exposing the malpractices in the society. A large number of Suo Moto actions by the courts have been taken on the news run on electronic media. These media reports have proved very effective in waking up the administrative machinery from their deep slumber to take notice on various matters which would otherwise have gone into oblivion. Media has gathered in itself the role of a watchdog, an intelligence agency and the political opposition and must be utilized to the full benefit of society. It is recommended that the vigilance and monitoring teams comprising civil society members, media persons, welfare organizations and persons of good repute may be formed at district level to keep an eye on the ongoing government / semi-government projects, the activities of the government departments and also on social evils / crimes. To start with they may not be necessarily equipped with magisterial powers to arrest but their reports must be channeled up to appropriate forum for an immediate action. The mere presence of such teams with official authority and mandate will be an effective deterrence for the law breakers.
Downsizing the Government Departments
Extra large sizes of the government departments and ministries tend to make the work cumbersome, complicated, sluggish. While downsizing the government departments, no employee should be dismissed / retired from the service as a rule. The role of the government is to create / provide jobs and not to render the people jobless. The surplus employees should be adjusted elsewhere by creating productive slots.
Apart from one-window operation as a measure to reduce corruption, it is recommended that efforts should be made to eliminate the person-to-person contact altogether while dealing with government departments / paying taxes etc. This has been effectively done in the developed countries where people sparingly visit the government offices that too on unavoidable issues only. The e-governance and online technology has revolutionized the dealings and should be applied to our benefit. A large number of taxes and government revenues can be designed in such a manner that they are collected indirectly without a citizen physically going to the government officials. For example we can calculate the Motor Vehicle Tax and Toll Tax and include in the fuel charges so that all the vehicle owners ‘pay it inadvertently’ without visiting the post offices or being stopped at the Toll Plazas. Many other innovations can be devised in the same manner. This will not only reduce the chances of corruption but will also curtail the movement on roads and rush in the public offices, thus economizing on time, fuel and effort.
Exploring Chinese Model
China has very effectively curtailed the menace of corruption since 1948. We ought to study the mechanism as how Chinese leadership was able to eliminate corruption particularly from the ranks and files of the Communist Party and still was able to run the country without any blackmailing. We should then tailor those measures to suit our peculiar environment. The underlying idea would be to initiate the battle against corruption from members of the ruling political party in Pakistan and then spreading it in the spheres of bureaucracy, other politicians and the society as a whole. Nothing will success if it is void of sincerity and a strong will to accomplish this uphill task.
(The author of this article is a freelance writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)