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Past present: A culture of corruption

Corruption has many categories and dimensions, and comes in all shapes and sizes. It could be the misuse of power, violation of moral values or a flourishing bribe culture for material gratification.

Corrupt practices are fatal to society and attempts have always been made to prevent it by the clergy imposing religious sanctions, by philosophers and political thinkers discussing moral values or through implementation of laws. Despite these measures, corruption has prevailed in every society throughout history.

Corruption at the top level involves the powerful ruling and elite classes. A Chinese ruler once asked a philosopher in his court about how to eliminate corruption. The philosopher replied that for starters, he should stop stealing himself.

Financial corruption is most condemned as it wrecks the fabric of society. When a state imposes and collects unjust taxes with coercive power, it is corruption of the highest order. When the aristocracy, ruling classes, bureaucrats and influential individuals accept bribes, they want to further improve their financial positions to live luxurious lives, consequently creating moral degradation in society.

Corruption from below involves petty government officials who use power play and accept bribes to perform tasks which are actually a part of their duty that they receive a salary for. The main cause of this corruption is the fact that they have low income and in order to live comfortably or beyond their means, they have no alternative but to accept bribes. Consumerism could perhaps be another reason which lures a person to acquire money through illegal means.

Edmund Burke (d.1797), the 18th century British parliamentarian and intellectual, critically examined the role of the East India Company which has a certain relevance to our society. According to him the servants of the company belonged to the lower strata of the British society and therefore were neither well educated, nor trained in the British moral code of life. While serving in India, they did not observe aristocratic traditions and values and were free from all moral, social, and cultural restraint. This led to fulfilment of their personal ambitions to become rich by hook or by crook. Unchecked, they became involved in immoral and unethical practices. Their greed, fraud, deception and lies not only challenged the Indian social and political system, but also disturbed the political and moral structure of the British society. They took their ill-gotten wealth from India to England, purchased landed property, became members of parliament and in this way distorted the traditional and respectable values and institutions of Britain.

Burke led the prosecution against Warren Hastings, the former governor- general of India. Hastings was accused of misconduct during his time in Calcutta particularly relating to mismanagement and personal corruption. Burke’s prosecution became a wider debate on the role of the East India Company. Burke believed that both financial and political corruption were harmful and damaged the British society, He further argued that once traditions and values were broken, corruption becomes endemic in society.

The Pakistani society suffered a setback as a result of partition when established traditions and moral values were destroyed with no checks and balances to control corruption in the newly structured society. Hence, financial as well as political corruption flourished at all levels. Religious decorum was maintained but was disallowed to check dishonest practices and immoral acts in daily life.

The result is that today, corruption is not regarded a vice but accepted as normal routine and tolerated by every section of society. It is used to acquire more power and to enjoy a luxurious lifestyle. Those who are involved in corruption from below argue that as the state does not provide basic amenities, health, education or care of senior citizens, wealth is the only source of their protection. That is why people use all fair and foul means to accumulate wealth for their security and well being.

Due to the corrupt political culture in our country, people with mediocre talent, skills and education become rulers and damage the entire structure of the state. This process has led the country towards decay and degeneration. The ruling classes violate laws and regulations and misuse authority to promote personal agendas. Sadly, they are neither criticised nor condemned but on the contrary, they are respected by the society which clearly shows the complete collapse of moral values.