Jinnah’s forgotten precept

January 26, 2020

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Jinnah considered bribery and corruption as the poison that destroys the nations.
Jinnah considered bribery and corruption as the poison that destroys the nations.

ACCORDING to Hector Bolitho, one of Jinnah’s biographers, scrupulousness and uprightness were few of the several qualities of Jinnah that were acknowledged even by his adversaries. Jinnah was often referred to as ‘painfully honest’ because he never deviated from prescribed rules and procedures under any circumstances. Countless anecdotes inform us that Jinnah spent from his own pocket for all the political activities that he conducted. He was an extremely thrifty administrator during his short stint as the Governor-General. Besides, he left a sizable portion of his personal wealth in the service of several educational institutions as part of his will. He proposed the same path for the nation in his maiden speech to the Constituent Assembly in August 1947. Jinnah stated: “One of the biggest curses from which India is suffering – I do not say that other countries are free from it, but, I think our condition is much worse – is bribery and corruption. That really is a poison. We must put that down with an iron hand and I hope that you will take adequate measures as soon as it is possible for this Assembly to do so”.

In the same speech, he mentioned a few forms of corruption including black marketeering, nepotism and jobbery and cautioned the nation to stay clear of them on all counts. Sadly though, our succeeding regimes and other tenets of the society seem to have forgotten this most vital precept emphasised by the Father of the Nation. Our history is replete with examples where a completely opposite course of action was chosen by the powers that be for self-service, personal gains and clan profits.

Corruption does not mean financial misappropriation alone! It has many forms. For folks in leadership position, corruption may include the fallacy of not knowing one’s job but insistence to stick to it. Selecting incapable advisers and technocrats without adequate comprehension of their assigned tasks also falls in the same definition. Rulers have to take tough decisions to run the business of the state at the individual and institutional level. A rational course of action that can lead to positive output may comprise clear understanding of issues in that sector, sound analysis of prevailing situation, unambiguous identification of goals and objectives as well as application of practical strategies for implementation. This is a loaded task which requires outstanding perseverance and unstinted sincerity of purpose. However, any deficiency or wilful neglect in this respect amounts to corruption. Present regime has come under fire on many decisions and conduct that are tantamount to procedural malpractice. The administrative fiasco in last days of November 2019 regarding the appointment of a service chief for another term exposed how incompetently the matter was handled by the ruling clique. Besides, rudderless conduct of economic decision-making process in the name of reforms, non-scientific escalation of urban densities, carte blanche support to dubious investors and real estate enterprises for revenue gains and transforming the foreign policy under absolute tutelage of the foreign powers are few recent decisions that have been vehemently criticised by the opposition ranks and civil society organisations. The declining capacities of leadership, uprightness and petty mindedness have led this macro form of sleaze to infiltrate into the echelons of administration.

Being a scrupulous leader, Jinnah cautioned the nation to stay clear of all forms of corruption. Regrettably, this most vital precept emphasised by the Father of the Nation has long been forgotten.

Our prime minister recently lamented that the treatment meted out to the rich and the poor is different when faced with an indictment of any type. This observation is a reality. The menace of corruption multiplies several folds when stipulated laws, statutes, rules and regulations are not followed in an even manner. A worse scenario is the selective enforcement of the legal provisions. Our society provides countless examples where laws are followed differently for plebeians and patricians! A poor farm labourer can be sent to the gallows even on a mild accusation by a noble. An ‘honourable’ landlord can walk away scot-free even after proven records of the most heinous of crimes. The Shahzeb Khan Murder trial in Karachi is an example when the culprit was given plush facilities, while in detention. This was only revealed when the then Chief Justice of Pakistan made a surprise visit in October 2018.

The reasons for this state of affairs are several. The legal provisions are kept as a tool for hegemony and enhancement of the clout of already powerful — not for the dispensation of impartial justice as the social norms would demand! It must be understood that the rule of law invariably require an attitudinal change in the social psyche of the elite. In other words, it is the voluntary submission of the self to the prescriptions of applied statutes. From the current trends, it appears a remote expectation. A related issue is the popular perception of corruption. Few decades ago, the common people considered corruption as an unpardonable vice which had to be instantly eradicated. They would distance themselves from such souls who had dubious incomes or lived beyond their normal financial status. It appears that the society at large is greatly confused viz-a-viz its position on corruption and its stretches. The blatant infiltration of corrupt practices (and people) has distorted the line of distinction between clean and corrupt to a sizable extent.

One of the most rampant forms of corruption is the misuse of power in the domain of governance. Laws, statutes and procedures very clearly specify the role and responsibilities of each actor in governance. In actual one finds these provisions violated to the core. For instance, it is a common sight to find the ministers and other top government functionaries visiting countries and finalising rudimentary level pacts that are either routinely done by an ambassador. Sometimes the prime minister assumes the role of the head of water and power sector bureaucrat in an attempt to justify the construction of dams and power projects. Ministers of the cabinet hardly respond to malpractices in their own assigned divisions. Our good Railways minister is mostly busy making predictions about future of the opposition leaders. He usually stops short of answering for the pathetic performance of the Railways, especially on the count of accident prevention and operational safety. The question arises that whether these responsible officials really care to shoulder responsibilities for which they are under oath? The outcomes are disastrous. Delays in the decisions, shrinking of capacity at the lower tiers of the government and inaccuracies in the outputs are few of the common ailments that crop up continuously.

Bribery is defined as the standard form of corruption. Over the period of time it has acquired very sophisticated formats. According to studies by several international financial institutions, bribery has become an industry exceeding US $ 1 trillion per annum at the global level. In yesteryears, one would find a nervous-looking visitor handing over a note book or diary containing a few currency notes to an official. The whole operation had to be covert. Times have changed. Bribery, in many domains, has become a standardised exercise. Rates, modes of transaction, delivery, receipt and accumulation have become well-known phenomena. The finesse in this crime is such that one cannot catch the culprit. Existence of a high volume informal economy, culture of cash transactions, absence of documentation practices in assets and wealth are few of the dominant causes. Whether it is a matter of registration of an FIR or the acquisition of trading license for a trade, nothing can move without greasing the palms of the concerned people. In some cases, the bribery deals are contracted outside the country. News reports informed that Sindh Anti-Corruption Establishment registered 13 cases against officials and staff in education and finance departments in July 2019 to probe charges of embezzlement with instances of bribery included in them. Millions of rupees seem to have been lost in this episode.

Public funds are a sacred trust. They must be spent on the public wellbeing in accordance with stipulated guidelines. One finds these funds routinely embezzled and misappropriated through very crafty techniques. Present process of contracting and procurement offers the best example to observe this form of corruption. As a routine, works and procurement beyond a certain value cannot be awarded without public announcement as per prescribed public procurement rules. Collusion of the officials with the favourites is established before the award of work. Tender notice is very carefully drafted that is based on the eligibility status of a pre-identified crony. After the tender is announced, many well-meaning firms are already rendered as unsuitable for the job. Incompetent but well-connected contractors sublet the awarded job to petty contractors on their own terms and conditions but with the blessings of the concerned officials. It is estimated that the value of construction rises to 15 to 25 times the actual worth due to these institutionalised formats of corruption. Scores of public work projects, estimates of which run into billions, are a case in point.

For removing corruption, attitudinal change has to be brought among the people. In contrast to the prevailing high consumption lifestyles and flamboyant living, simple and frugal practices need to be adopted. The examples have to be set from the top for creating a trickle down impact. One prime minister, ousted through a Supreme Court verdict, lived in a most ostentatious mansion in Lahore suburbs. Another top leader from Sindh, converted his south Karachi residence into a self-styled fortress. The present prime minister, who has been harping for making Pakistan corruption-free, lives in similar style in a comparable location in Islamabad. If the person of our rulers shall continue to depict the lavishness of the nouveau riche, the lower cadres shall continue to strive for the same, using fair and not-so-fair means!

The writer is a Professor and Dean, Faculty of Architecture and Management Sciences, NED University, Karachi.