DAWN - Opinion; October 20, 2008

Published October 20, 2008

How to curb corruption

By Dr Viqar Zaman

CORRUPTION has been with mankind since time immemorial. It is not an end in itself but a means to an end, that is to acquire wealth in which at least two persons are involved, a giver and a taker.

Such being the nature of corruption it is usually well planned and based on sober thinking. It is for this reason that the web of corruption is not easy to unravel and may pass unnoticed.

Much credit goes to Transparency International (TI), a Berlin-based NGO, for increasing awareness of corruption and the damage it causes to national economies. Since 1995 it has annually published a corruption perception index (CPI) which measures the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist in a given country.

I have listed here the top five least corrupt countries from a total of 179 examined by TI. They are given in a graded sequence in TI’s 2006, 2007 and 2008 indices. Pakistan’s placement for each year follows the top listings. Countries receiving the same grades are placed in the same line. As a matter of interest, the most corrupt countries for all three years appear to be Myanmar, Somalia and Iraq. A high degree of corruption in Iraq does not reflect well on America’s effort to bring ‘democracy’ to that country. Somalia is in a state of civil war and Myanmar is controlled by the military which explains their low rating.

The least corrupt in 2006 were: (1) Finland, Denmark, New Zealand; (2) Sweden, Singapore; (3) Iceland; (4) Switzerland; and (5) Netherlands. Pakistan was 138th on the list.

The rankings changed somewhat in 2007: (1) Denmark, Finland, New Zealand; (2) Singapore, Sweden; (3) Iceland, Netherlands, Switzerland; (4) Canada, Norway; and (5) Australia. Pakistan was 138th on the list.

And in 2008: (1) Denmark, New Zealand, Sweden; (2) Singapore; (3) Finland, Switzerland; (4) Iceland, Netherlands; and (5) Australia. Pakistan was 134th on the list.

An analysis of the above information reveals that Pakistan’s rating has improved somewhat and hopefully under the new democratic government it will improve further. On the whole the Scandinavian countries score the best grades probably because the rich-poor divide there is minimal. It is interesting that the only Asian country which is ranked highly is Singapore. So let us see how Singapore has attained this status.

In Singapore the salaries of public officials are generally at par with the private sector so that local talent is not drawn away by commercial organisations. It is also the conscious policy of the government to peg salaries to the rate of growth in the economy. This means that salaries have been rising more or less continuously as Singapore’s economy has grown at an average of six to seven per cent annually. The government’s message here is very clear. We will pay you well, if you work well and don’t get involved in corrupt practices. In Singapore, poverty cannot be an excuse to be corrupt.

The following are some of the legislative measures used to prevent corruption in the civil service (abstracted from Singapore’s Government Instruction Manual):

1. A public officer cannot borrow money from, or in any way put himself under a financial obligation to any person who is in any way under his official authority or has official dealings with him.

2. A public officer cannot use any official information to further his private interest.

3. A public officer is required to declare his assets at first appointment and subsequently annually.

4. A public officer cannot engage in business or trade or undertake any part-time employment without prior permission.

5. A public officer cannot receive entertainment from a member of the public.

6. A public officer cannot accept any shares issued by a company offered to him privately without the approval of higher authorities.In Singapore both the giver and the receiver of the bribe are guilty of corruption and are liable to the same punishment. Any person who is convicted of corruption can be fined up to S$100,000 or sentenced to five years in prison or both. If it involves a member of parliament, the term of imprisonment can be increased to seven years.

Similar anti-corruption regulations probably exist in other countries but the difference is that in Singapore they are strictly implemented. In 1986, the anti-corruption department discovered that the then minister for national development, Teh Cheng Wan, had a garage built in his home by government contractors. Although Mr Teh was a close associate and friend of Lee Kuan Yew, who was prime minister at the time, court proceedings were started against him. Realising that he would be convicted, Mr Teh committed suicide on Dec 14 that year. Mr Lee remarked “There is no way a minister can avoid investigations and a trial if there is evidence to support one.”

According to Lee Kuan Yew, anti-corruption measures rest on three factors: the law against corruption, a vigilant public which provides information, and an anti-corruption department which should be scrupulous, thorough and fearless in its investigations. He further states that “the strongest deterrent is the public opinion which censures and condemns corrupt persons; in other words, it makes corruption so unacceptable that the stigma of corruption cannot be washed away even by serving a prison sentence.”

Let us hope that this attitude will some day come to Pakistan and people will look on corrupt officials with disdain to make them realise the high price they have to pay for robbing this poor nation.

The writer is a former head of the microbiology department of the National University of Singapore.

Promoting media ethics

By Zohra Yusuf

WHEN a government, unnerved by coverage of the lawyers’ movement, imposed emergency rule and introduced curbs on the media last November, the protests by journalists received considerable public support. Journalists were also seen to be in the right when they rejected a ‘code of conduct’ arbitrarily enforced by the government of Pervez Musharraf.

However, it became clear that the people’s definition of media freedom was at variance with that of journalists when the private electronic media began to telecast disturbing images of the violence that has struck Pakistan with increasing frequency and brutality.

Criticism of certain undesirable aspects of media coverage prompted the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) to host a consultation in association with the International Federation of Journalists to debate the parameters of a voluntary code of ethics. The outcome was a 26-point code that the PFUJ has circulated for feedback and suggestions.

This code takes into account the public outrage over explicit coverage of acts of violence — particularly cases of suicide bombings in which scant respect is shown towards the deceased or the sentiments of their families. The coverage has become so gruesome that certain channels have run prior warning messages advising viewers about the unsuitability of the footage for children. Thus Point 20 of the proposed code states: “A journalist shall not publish or broadcast extreme images of violence, mutilation, corpses or victims of tragedy irrespective of the cause unless it is necessary in the public interest.”

Here, one wonders how the visual projection of mutilated bodies can ever be in the ‘public interest’. It is akin to clauses in the Constitution of Pakistan that add the proviso of ‘national interest’ while guaranteeing fundamental freedoms. Giving the background to the development of the code of ethics, the communication from the PFUJ states: “The media adopted 26-points Code of Ethics and constituted a five member committee … to prepare a draft for Media Complaint Commission. The committee will take the other media stakeholders on board. The Commission will look into the public complaint against media [sic]”. The draft paper on the Media Complaints Commission is yet to be circulated.

This first step in creating a voluntary code of ethics for the media is a commendable one. There are several points that demonstrate the concern of the framers regarding the pernicious role the media sometimes plays in instigating hatred — ethnic or racial.

“A journalist shall strive to ensure that his writing or broadcast contains no discriminatory material or comment based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, age, sex, marital status or physical or mental handicap” (Point 16).

This clause, however, has some gaping holes. In the context of Pakistan, it is imperative to include in its ambit issues of sectarianism and religious bigotry. Colour and race are not exactly the basis for discrimination in Pakistan and this clause seems to have been picked up from some other similar code. While other points in the code cover aspects of reporting on sectarian killings, it is necessary in this clause to specifically indicate the danger of prejudicial comments.The power of the media to incite faith-based hatred was amply demonstrated when, following the recent airing of a television programme, three Ahmadis were killed in different parts of Sindh, apparently in response to views expressed in the talk show. While the PFUJ condemned the killings and the role of the programme in instigating the murders, it should consider incorporating strict safeguards against such malicious broadcasts.

The proposed PFUJ-IFJ code rightly takes cognisance of discriminatory and damaging reporting against women. Women’s rights groups have for long demanded an end to biased and stereotyped media coverage of women. The worst examples are from the field of crime reporting in which gender, age, looks and personal details are given coverage with barely concealed pleasure. Point 17 of the proposed code states:“A journalist shall respect and uphold principles of gender equality both in performance of his/her professional duties and in his/her relations with fellow journalists. A journalist shall not discriminate and shall avoid sex-role stereotyping and exploitation in his/her work.”

Again, the proposed code doesn’t go far enough in categorically discouraging sexist reporting, though read in conjunction with other points it does attempt to respect women’s right to fair and equal treatment by the media. Rights groups need to look at those points of the code referring to coverage of women analytically and formulate their response to the PFUJ-IFJ document.

One of the most significant issues the code of ethics rightly addresses is the media’s attitude towards terrorism and the campaign (by Pakistani security forces or the US forces) to combat it. This is reflected in the following point:

“A journalist shall not glorify the perpetrators of illegitimate acts of violence committed under any garb or cause, including honour and religion” (Point 14).

Since the Lal Masjid operation last July, the objectivity of the media is becoming increasingly questionable when it comes to coverage of terrorism. After criticising the then government for inaction, a total turnaround in positions was seen when the security forces finally stormed the mosque to flush out armed militants. While the level of force used or the lack of planning on the government’s part could be challenged, news channels and journalists — by and large — began to play a partisan role, leaving no doubt where their sympathies lay.

Similarly, terrorists are often glorified in reporting on the current military operations in Fata and Swat. Commentators invited to give their opinion generally include hardliners such as Gen (retd) Hamid Gul whose pro-Taliban views are no secret. It has come to be believed that anti-Americanism means being anti-Pakistani military operations — and, consequently, pro-Taliban (or terrorists by any other name).

The code, seeking to promote ‘responsible media’, has proposed a crucial value system to ensure ethics-based journalism, both at personal and institutional levels. Through the Media Complaints Commission it seeks to ensure “That there is credible and effective peer accountability through self-regulation by journalists and media professionals that will promote editorial independence and high standards of accuracy, reliability, and quality in media.”

The PFUJ has circulated the draft code of ethics to media organisations and individuals to elicit comments and suggestions. This is an initiative long overdue and one that needs a broad spectrum of support.

If chaos is inevitable

By Sayeed Hasan Khan & Kurt Jacobsen

IN 1942 and again in 1946, Mahatma Gandhi advised top British officials, after they failed to forge a settlement between the Muslim League and the Congress Party, that the best thing to do about India is withdraw and leave the country to God and ‘chaos’.

The British — Cripps and then Mountbatten — rejected Gandhi’s notion as unthinkable. Even after key parties were cajoled into a partition agreement, chaos erupted anyway and upwards of a million people were slaughtered. So this apparently well-meaning but expeditious settlement, duly signed by savvy imperial officials, averted no woes and indeed may have stoked the bloodshed.

Even as he makes hollow noises about an Iraqi withdrawal, George W. Bush vows to boost US forces in Afghanistan, having misled public opinion into the belief that armed outsiders are helping, not hindering, a solution to the increasing conflict there. Barack Obama too sounds as if he has been seduced into this same diagnosis, even as he sensibly calls for a pull-out from Iraq. Perhaps, next to the harrowing meat grinder of Iraq, Afghanistan looks easy. If so, no one is paying attention.

So far, all that Nato (mainly UK and US) forces have achieved there are the displacement of the Taliban from Kabul, a lot of get-tough political posturing, a means to justify more arms spending, and a photo-op for Prince Harry. Commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan Gen David McKiernan may have backtracked from his scandalous admission that no ‘victory’ is in sight, even with more troops, but delaying withdrawal guarantees that more Afghans — nearly 8,000 last year alone — will be killed to no sane strategic purpose. Misdirected missiles and cross-border raids are not calculated to calm nerves. Collateral damage is what bombs do, even when by chance they hit their intended target, which may be a rogue wedding party.

Iran remains squarely in the crosshairs. Bush invoked favourite bogeyman Iran again at the UN recently, which demonstrates that no peaceful settlement will ever be allowed if the US remains in the turbulent area. The moral authority of western forces is seen locally as a patently obscene joke. The standard pious pleas for a peacekeeping function, and for hunting down Al Qaeda, sound like thin alibis.

Even the reviled drug trade is flourishing again, thanks to foreign intervention. Western forces always turned a blind eye when poppy cultivation funded anti-communist crusades, whether against the Russians in Afghanistan or, after the Chinese revolution, when a nationalist general fled to Burma with his beaten army and there became a linchpin of the golden triangle. The Afghan drug plight spilled into Pakistan too by way of drug addiction and ‘kalashnikov culture’.

So a serious dialogue between the insurgents and the authorities in the region, whether brokered by Saudis (as has been reported) or Martians, needs all the encouragement it can get. The more foreign troops pour in, the more mayhem and resentment inexorably ensues, and the more the secular forces in these overstressed areas lose the support of the people.

Local people are not moved when an occasional VIP or foreigner is killed. The killing of their countrymen is another thing altogether. At the Marriott, for instance, most victims were not natty diplomats or haughty officials but drivers, security men, other employees of the hotel and Islamabad residents. The great majority of Pakistanis care neither for the Taliban’s crazy creed nor for Asif Zardari’s slick hobnobbing with America. Western military policies, as anyone outside the Bush administration plainly sees, only succeeded beyond Bin Laden’s wildest dreams in transforming a rag-tag Al Qaeda into an international terrorist franchise.

For militants, as recruitment tools go, nothing beats being bombarded by US weaponry. They couldn’t be more grateful. The thirst for reprisal surpasses all else. Recently, the jirga maliks announced that if the US bombs their districts they will indeed ally with the Taliban — exactly what the US says it wants to avoid. So the traditional leadership can wind up in the clammy hands of religious anarchists who seize the name of Islam and steer it far from its most admirable principles.

If moderate religious forces lose out to extremists, especially in Pakhtun areas of Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan, other ethnic Afghan groups, like Tajiks and Hazaras, will resist a return of Taliban rule. So there is a grave danger that Afghanistan could shatter, which in turn can trigger major upheaval in Pakistan. A de facto Pakhtun nation might arise, which would make pre-9/11 Afghanistan look like a kindergarten.

By no means are local players blameless. There is still a potent faction in Pakistan who frets foremost about any increase in the influence of India on Karzai and the Tajik leadership in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s leadership does not realise how dearly the Afghan and Kashmir policies have cost the country over the past few decades. Unless they change, these myopic policies will continue to damage their own stature inside the country, and the standing of the country itself in the world.

Nonetheless, those rued relationships with latter-day terrorists (celebrated for a while as freedom fighters) blossomed in the 1980s with US and Saudi blessings, which US news analysts like to forget. The Pakistan Army pragmatically negotiated ceasefire treaties with insurgents (who are not synonymous with Taliban or Al Qaeda) but strong American pressure on government forces spurred treaty-breaking attacks on local irregulars. This duplicity — arising from external pressure — is the source of the infernal zigzagging policies bemoaned by observers.

Foreign forces must be withdrawn. This grisly mess is Pakistan’s war because it is America’s war. Pakistan depends financially on America, and can hardly pay its energy import bill otherwise. The strain between these two deeply distrustful partners is paving a sure path to social pandemonium. The state and its security apparatus, despite this dependence, don’t seem to have the will or the ability to crush the Taliban, hence the escalation in American incursions. If the Pakistan military were to bend entirely to US whims, however, the whole country could be set ablaze — quite the opposite of what western editorial writers imagine.

The Pakistan Army cannot afford to behave as ruthlessly against Pakhtun insurgents as the South Vietnam army behaved against the NLF, which didn’t pan out all that well either, did it? So Pakistan’s leaders don’t have the nerve to say no to America and instead find ways to go slow, soft-peddling. Hence, the impression of policy incoherence.

If chaos is inevitable, then withdraw now. If there has to be a role for other countries it should be only those nations who border Afghanistan and/or have an interest in peace being established: China, Iran and Russia. Some Muslim countries — like Malaysia and Indonesia — might lend their negotiating expertise, but not peacekeeping troops. If there is a peace arrangement, then and only then, will things change.

The Taliban cannot survive by dint of sheer cruel dogmatism. The ruthless dimension of communism was not destroyed by the American military, but by economic forces and by the people themselves because societies can change only from internal pressure, as we see in the United States itself today where Obama is preparing for victory.

How global catastrophe was averted

By Larry Elliott and Jill Treanor

NORMALLY, it would have been a dire week. Inflation in the UK rose to a 16-year high of 5.2 per cent, the jobless total hit its highest level in 17 years and there was gloomy news from the high street and the housing market.

The US was in equally bad shape. Consumer confidence, according to figures out on Friday, suffered its sharpest ever one-month fall last month as the public digested the implications of a month of mayhem on Wall Street.

But these are not normal times and in London, Washington, Paris and Berlin on Friday night there was a sense that the week could have been much worse; in fact, that the world was back from the abyss.

When Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the IMF, warned a week ago that the world’s financial system was “on the brink of systemic meltdown” he was voicing the views of every central bank governor and finance minister attending the gloomiest and most crucial meeting of the fund for a generation.

The talk in the corridors of the IMF was of what could be done before markets opened on Monday morning to prevent the collapse of the western banking system and a descent into a 1930s-style slump. The emergency package hammered out first in Washington and then in Paris averted the catastrophe. Markets remain nervous, share prices have moved up and down, the mood in the City of London and on Wall Street has remained downbeat as traders have woken up to the notion that the global economy is heading for recession — and probably a big one at that.

Friday of the previous week was a day of blind panic on the London stock exchange. Bank shares were hammered, with Royal Bank of Scotland losing a quarter of its stock market value. The Edinburgh-based bank was worth almost GBP60bn a year ago, but as the City (London’s financial district) closed for business it was valued at just GBP11.5bn.

It was clear to the Treasury, the Bank of England and the FSA that the banking crisis had not been solved by Darling’s announcement two days earlier of a grand bail-out.The Treasury and the FSA summoned the banks to find a solution before the markets opened on Monday. It was not just bankers who spent a weekend locked away. Lawyers, accountants and top City investors were all engaged in a frantic attempt to end the uncertainty.

The mood was bleak. So were some of the contingency plans being considered by the authorities to ensure some of calm could return on Monday. Darling had been at the IMF but left the meetings early to deal with the crisis at home.

In London GBP250bn had been wiped off the value of the top 100 shares in the previous week. The fear was that the market would go into a fatal spiral if fears about the strength of the major banks could not be abated before Monday morning.

Even if stock markets did not need to be closed discussions were held about halting trading in bank shares which had been dragging the wider markets lower. Consideration was also given to calling an emergency bank holiday, such was the anxiety about how bank customers would respond to further falls in share prices of the banks holding their savings.

In the event, such drastic steps were deemed unnecessary. The deal hammered out with RBS, HBOS, Lloyds and Barclays on last Sunday night — at audiences with City minister Paul Myners that were described by one banker as “not so much a meeting as a drive-by shooting” — provided officials with enough confidence to believe that markets would be reassured.

Stock markets soared on Monday and strains in the world’s money markets also started to ease. But the banks are thought safe — for now.

— The Guardian, London



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