Corruption index

January 25, 2020

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THE political mudslinging that has ensued over Transparency International’s latest report shows all that is wrong with the way our politics deals with important priorities and its sheer inability to work with numbers and data. The TI ranking shows deterioration in Pakistan’s standing in the world in terms of corruption rankings, going down three notches to 120 out of 180 countries. Last year, Pakistan had ranked at 117. Politicians from the opposition parties seized on this report to taunt the ruling party for failing in its core aim ie the elimination of corruption. To its further discredit, the ruling party’s spokesperson responded by alleging bias at TI, followed by a vitriolic attack on the integrity of the global corruption watchdog. Perhaps it needs to be pointed out to Ms Firdous Ashiq Awan, who made these remarks, that for many years now her own party leaders, including Imran Khan himself, have used the same TI reports and rankings to criticise previous governments and buttress their own claim that corruption alone is responsible for all the ills of society. 

The ranking is just a perception index, meaning it is generated from responses given by a set of business executives to questions that are asked of them about their experience of interacting with the government. It is not some kind of a hard measurement of the quantum of corrupt practices in society. It is not an economic indicator like GDP or even the credit rating of the country. In trying to defend her government against the opposition’s attack, Ms Awan actually invoked Moody’s and its recent decision to upgrade the outlook on Pakistan’s credit rating to stable, saying that the action somehow negated the findings of TI. It does not because these are two completely different things. And back when the same rating agencies downgraded Pakistan last December, the ruling party’s members cried foul and alleged bias, with one even trying to argue that the rating agencies were engaged in some sort of fifth-generation warfare being conducted by Pakistan’s enemies. 

Undoubtedly, there is need for greater maturity. The opposition can be faulted for incorrectly using the ranking to mock the ruling party, but they were subjected to similar taunts when they were in power and they argue that now it is the PTI’s turn to field the same attacks that it launched on others in the past. The onus is on the ruling party, because it is in power, to show more responsibility when dealing with such attacks. A simple defence would be to point out that the fight against corruption is a long-haul one, and small movements up or down in the rankings in one year is not about how they measure progress. There are significant messages in the TI report, chief among them the importance of campaign finance laws. Perhaps some attention can be focused on these as well.

Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2020