• Govt claims weak rule of law, not financial corruption, behind poor ranking
• Opposition leaders say TI report belies PM’s claims; accuse him of patronising the corrupt
• Denmark, Finland, New Zealand top index; Somalia, Syria and South Sudan bring up rear

ISLAMABAD / LAHORE: The perception of corruption in Pakistan has seen a rise for the third straight year, with the country sliding 16 places to rank 140th out of 180 countries surveyed by watchdog Transparency International (TI).

In 2020, Pakistan’s CPI was 31 and it was ranked 124th out of 180 countries, but this year that score has fallen to 28.

In its ‘2021 Corruption Perception Index’, TI noted that corruption levels remained at a standstill worldwide, with 86 per cent of countries making little to no progress in the last ten years.

Looking at scores from previous years, Pakistan’s CPI ranking has been on the decline: in 2020, the country was ranked 124th out of 180 countries, 120th in 2019 and 117th in 2018.

According to the report, CPI ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption on a scale of zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

As per the CPI report, a country’s rank is its position relative to the other countries in the index. Since ranks can change merely if the number of countries included in the index changes, the rank is therefore not as important as the score in terms of indicating the level of corruption in that country, the report says.

The report used eight data sources to calculate the CPI for Pakistan: Bertelsmann Foundation Transformation index, Economist Intelligence Unit country ratings, Global Insights Country Risk ratings, PRS International Country Risk Guide, Varieties of Democracy Project, World Bank CPIA, World Economic Forum EOS and the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index.

TI’s annual report has always been a contentious subject in Pakistan, with successive oppositions using it to cast aspersions on the performance of the government of the day, whoever it may be. On their part, governments have always downplayed the veracity of the TI data or questioned the motives of the local TI chapter

Govt stance

The government’s chief spokesperson, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry attributed the drop in Pakistan’s CPI ranking to weak rule of law and ‘state capture’, rather than an actual increase in financial corruption.

At a press conference, the minister said all the international institutions that helped determine country rankings had Pakistan maintaining its previous ranking – except the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which dropped the country’s ranking.

“If you ascertain that who is heading the Economist in Pakistan, you will find that why Pakistan’s ranking was dropped,” he added.

The minister, who has used the CPI in the past to question the performance of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government, also cast doubt on the credibility of the TI report.

“It is not a concrete and country specific report. We will give our comprehensive response once the complete report is issued. I am not getting into the controversy of whether it is correct or not, he said.

He admitted that the CPI score indicated a need to take steps to strengthen the rule of law in Pakistan, saying that this was something PM Khan had stressed time and again.

Opposition reaction

Opposition politicians were quick to join the chorus of critical voices, terming the CPI report “a charge sheet against PM Khan” and calling on him to resign.

Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif said the PTI govt “has broken all records of corruption in the last 20 years. Among the Asia-Pacific region, Pakistan has unfortunately been ranked as the 5th most corrupt country.”

He tweeted that under his brother Nawaz’s rule, corruption had decreased despite massive development projects being undertaken. This, Mr Sharif said, was down to “transparency, good governance and legal reforms”, adding that corruption was rampant under Imran Khan even though he had not carried out any major development works.

His niece and PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz declared the Imran Khan government “the most corrupt government in Pakistan’s history”, claiming that every sector had witnessed a decline during his reign.

Punjab Assembly opposition leader Hamza Shehbaz said that Imran Khan’s anti-corruption slogans were merely a front for targeting the opposition after coming to power, while the party’s information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb asked the premier to address the nation and answer their questions over the latest TI report.

Zulfiqar Ali Bader, spokesperson for Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that after the publication of this report, there was no justification for Imran Khan to remain in government.

“Imran Khan came to power with the slogan of ending corruption but now, with corruption increasing, he should go home,” he said.

Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi went as far as to declare PM Khan “the most corrupt prime minister in the history of Pakistan”.

Speaking at a presser in Islamabad, the PML-N leader said that the man who was “declared sadiq and ameen after a Supreme Court suo motu had failed to deliver.

He claimed that according to the report, the bulk of this corruption was prevalent in the federal, KP and Punjab governments, all of which were under PTI rule.

PPP MNA Shazia Marri termed Imran Khan past claims that he would root out corruption from the country had proven to be lies.

She pointed out that it was under PTI rule that the KP Accountability Commission was abolished.

Jamaat-i-Islami emir Sirajul said that the prime minister had proven, quite literally, that he was dangerous for the country. He claimed that the blunder committed by this government over three years were unmatched in the country’s 74-year history.

Global Highlights

The CPI global average remains unchanged at 43 for the tenth year in a row, and two-thirds of countries score below 50.

In its report, TI found that countries which “violate civil liberties consistently score lower on the CPI. Complacency in fighting corruption exacerbates human rights abuses and undermines democracy, setting off a vicious spiral. As these rights and freedoms erode and democracy declines, authoritarianism takes its place, contributing to even higher levels of corruption.”

The report also notes that the “global COVID-19 pandemic has also been used in many countries as an excuse to curtail basic freedoms and side-step important checks and balances”.

“In parts of Asia Pacific… increasing restrictions on accountability measures and basic civil freedoms allow corruption to go unchecked. Even historically high-performing countries are showing signs of decline,” the report noted.

There has been no change in the CPI scores of India and Bangladesh from 2020 to 2021.

The top countries on the index are Denmark (88), Finland (88) and New Zealand (88), all of which also rank in the top 10 per cent in the world on the Democracy Index civil liberties score.

Somalia (13), Syria (13) and South Sudan (11) remain at the bottom of the CPI. Syria is also ranked last in civil liberties, while Somalia and South Sudan were unrated.

Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2022

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