PAKISTAN’S consistent slide on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index over the last several years is deplorable but not incomprehensible. Though we have ‘retained’ our spot at 140 on the CPI among 180 countries and territories for the second consecutive year, the overall score fell by one point to 27 points in 2022, the lowest in a decade. That the country’s corruption rankings dropped by 23 notches — from 117 in 2017 — under the administration of Imran Khan, who had come to power on the promise of tackling graft, highlights the unwillingness and inability of the nation’s leadership to stem the ever-deepening rot. It also highlights that the growing incidence of corruption is not the only issue here. The real problem is the anti-corruption laws and framework that have been set up to protect the country’s ruling elite, be they politicians, bureaucrats, military establishment, businessmen or judges. On top of that, these laws have mostly been applied in the past for the persecution of political opponents or ‘political engineering’ by the powers that be. Opposition politicians are put in jail for years on corruption allegations and subjected to vicious media trials, without their being convicted or their guilt being proved, until they are needed again by the establishment. The use of the anti-corruption watchdog NAB by Gen Musharraf and the PTI government to these ends is a testimony to the fact.
Considering this, it is not surprising that ordinary folk have lost all faith in the anti-corruption effort of the state. Both the federal and provincial anti-corruption agencies, hampered by political intervention, lack of resources and proper training to investigate white-collar crime and get the corrupt convicted, have proved ineffective in their so-called battle against dishonest activities. Rather, they themselves are perceived, and justifiably so, as involved in financial corruption. Consequently, we see greater social acceptance of the misuse of power for personal financial gains. The current state of affairs is placing new, harsher constraints on the economy, and raising the cost of public service delivery, besides affecting Pakistan’s credibility among its foreign creditors and investors as a transparent country. In order to improve its international standing as a clean and transparent nation, Pakistan must revamp its laws to fight corruption, stop using the agencies for political purposes, properly train their staff, and ensure greater transparency in the public sector decision-making processes.
Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2023
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