TRY as it may, it is difficult for the PTI government to spin the numbers in Transparency International’s latest report any way other than what they suggest. Pakistan has plunged 16 places on TI’s corruption perceptions index in the span of only one year and, with a score of 28 — down from 31 in 2020 — now ranks at 140 out of 180 countries.
The report punches a hole in the self-righteous façade of a party that has long beaten the drum of accountability, whose leader — the country’s chief executive — will not deign to meet senior opposition leaders on the pretext of their alleged corruption. Past governments have often expressed reservations about the reliability of TI’s findings and the conclusions that can be drawn from them. However, while in opposition, Imran Khan would present the CPI as a gold standard and use it as a stick with which to beat the party in power. Now that Pakistan has scored the worst on the index since 2013, for the PTI government to find fault with the methodology is challenging, to say the least.
Nevertheless, its spin doctors are pushing back in the face of uproar from the opposition parties. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry ascribed the drop in Pakistan’s CPI ranking to weak rule of law and ‘state’ capture rather than financial wrongdoing. It is a thin, illogical argument that does not in any way exonerate the PTI government. Rule of law is the foundation upon which rests the edifice of accountability; it is a situation in which the law is applied across the board, without fear or favour.
However, NAB, the premier anti-graft body, has by now been thoroughly discredited, with several judgements of the apex court questioning its workings and decrying the blatant political witch-hunt in which it has been engaged. The amendments that the government has enacted in the NAB law have made accountability an even more partisan exercise. In other words, it has made a deliberate choice to weaken the mechanism of anti-corruption. State capture too cannot be delinked from financial corruption: policy manipulation by the ruling elites to further their own interests is precisely what enables such malfeasance.
That said, it is unfortunate the CPI ranking has in the last couple of decades been used by all sides for point-scoring. Corruption remains a major issue in Pakistan, as in many other developing countries, something the TI’s latest report itself illustrates. By exacerbating inequity and concentrating resources within a sliver of society, corruption prevents a country from developing to its full potential.
The fraying of the PTI government’s narrative about accountability has been obvious for some time. No amount of sophistry can stitch it back together again. The only way forward is for the country’s representatives to work collectively and with consensus in order to strengthen democratic institutions in Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2022