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Free advice for Imran Khan


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FAMOUSLY, and to much acclaim from his devoted fans, Imran Khan has declared that he will end corruption in either 19 or 90 days, depending on which version you believe.

But in either case, he is sure he will root out this evil in a very short period. In this desire, he is in good company: Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia and Musharraf all promised to clean up the system. We all know how that went for them and for us.

It’s not that I doubt Imran Khan’s intentions, or that I would like to see him fail should the improbable happen, and he actually comes to power. As a Pakistani, there’s nothing I would rather like to see than a country free of corruption.

But as somebody who has spent most of his working life in the bureaucracy, I can say with some authority that the whole system is now so steeped in venality that I doubt any one ruler has the power to eradicate it in a single lifetime. And this is not the cynic in me speaking, but the practical ex-civil servant.

I know Imran Khan is surrounded by many bright advisers, but this column is intended as a free input into his ongoing policymaking exercise.

Let me start with a personal example. After I took early retirement from the civil service to head a private university whose lovely campus was nearing completion on the outskirts of Karachi, the electrical contractor complained that a provincial inspector was demanding a bribe to issue a certificate. Without this piece of paper, we could not get power from the grid.

I happened to have a friend who was a provincial minister, so I called her to report this complaint. In a couple of days, she rang back to say that she had had the inspector transferred to Thatta, and I passed on the good news to the contractor. A day later, he came to me in a state of great distress, and asked me to have the transfer cancelled.

When I asked him why, he replied that the inspector’s successor and friends in other departments would make it impossible for him to work in the area. “The bureaucracy’s a mafia,” he explained. “You target one member, and the rest of the gang goes for you.” In the event, I refused to call my friend again, and have no idea how things worked out for the contractor.

Here’s another example: when I took over as accountant general Sindh in the mid-1980s, I was aware the office had a reputation for corruption, especially in its pension section. After immediately changing the entire staff there, I put an ad in the newspapers announcing that an officer would record any complaints between 11 and 12 every day.

Often I would join the officer as we waited for complaints to come pouring in. In one month, not a single person came forward. Disappointed and puzzled, I discussed this failure with colleagues. One of them explained, as though to a naïve child, that people knew that if they complained against an official, they would incur the ire of all his colleagues. They would then settle scores after my tenure ended.

These are only some of the realities of corruption. Our businessmen are fond of sitting in their drawing rooms and cursing crooked officials. What they leave unsaid is that mostly, they benefit from this system as they pay bribes to either speed up their cases, or cut corners that allow them to make greater profits. In short, they are partners in crime with the officials they bribe.

And corruption is not restricted to the state sector. Senior executives of large corporations are well aware of how their procurement staff skim off a percentage on the items they buy. Bank managers are not above charging clients a percentage of the loans they disburse. Elected members of well-known clubs are known to make money on contracts and kitchen expenses.

The military is Pakistan’s biggest department in terms of money spent, and given the size of defence contracts, the alleged bribes in this area are huge. But the opaque nature of these transactions, and the clout of those in charge, makes it difficult to quantify the extent of the graft. At the field level, I have heard of at least one commanding officer of a battalion who regularly siphoned off a part of his unit’s food allowance.

Turning to political corruption, the rules of business make it difficult for ministers to accept payoffs without the connivance of the bureaucrats reporting to them. Thus, if a minister demands (or is offered) a bribe for a contract, it is his underlings who will have to make the case and sign the agreement. Thus, politicians have every incentive to ensure they have pliable officers in their departments.

It is this deepening corruption, as well as its social acceptance, that has caused such demoralisation in the higher echelons of the bureaucracy. Incidentally, when Imran Khan says he will clean up the system when he comes to power, does he think his party will win at the centre and the provinces simultaneously? He needs to remember that the sprawling provincial bureaucracies do not fall under Islamabad’s control.

One problem Imran Khan and his team do not seem to have grasped is that low government salaries are one of the prime factors behind the widespread corruption. If I am honest, I will have to concede that I was easily able to resist temptation because I had only one child to educate, and my parents did not need my financial support. Also, my writing brought in a little extra income to pay for books. Most civil servants do not fall into this narrow category.

None of this is to suggest that it is impossible to at least reduce corruption, but it needs a sustained effort, not just empty slogans. Over the years, we have heard plenty of those. Somehow, the bureaucracy needs to be trimmed as it is far larger than our needs. And pay scales need to be brought into step with financial and social reality.

Above all, we must realise that corruption is a fact of life in the developing world. Even industrialised countries have their share of it. So a sense of proportion is needed while tackling this ancient evil.

The writer is the author of Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (67) Closed

Rattan(Sydney) Sep 01, 2012 11:55am
Irfan sahab,why dont we bluntly say Pakistan is a lost cause.i am orignally from India and i can tell you that we are the same here.corruption is so rife that it is impossible to get rid of it.There is one sollution alone - get out of there
Meekal A Ahmed Sep 01, 2012 09:46am
Irfan, we need to stop talking about ELIMINATING corruption. There is no such thing even in places like Sweden and New Zealand -- two countries that achieve high marks. We must CONTAIN corruption, or reduce it. That I think is do-able.
Suresh Sep 02, 2012 01:17am
a practical and good advise. A great fan of Irfan - always love and wait for your column to appear. An Indian living in Melbourne.
Hussnain Gondal Sep 01, 2012 09:33am
a nice piece of advice for imran khan....he must realize and bent his policies to eradicate the corruption....
Akmal Qabal Sep 01, 2012 09:57am
Good point and the writers experience says a lot, but dreaming of utopia isn't what politics is about. Imran Khan needs a chance and Pakistanis need a chance to have a crack at corruption. If the challenge is difficult, doesn't mean we should do nothing and watch the country crumble from within.
Noor Ahmed Sep 01, 2012 09:29am
Khan sahb is far more a social worker than a politician..... Pakistani politics has no space for such people.
Falcon Sep 01, 2012 08:30am
Bravo. Now that was one humble and sincere advice. As you might have noticed, IK talks less now about ending corruption in shorter time frame as he is getting to understand more and more complexity of the system. Lastly, IK does mention quite frequently that one of the causes of problems in civil sector is lack of reasonable compensation (as you mentioned). However, I have to look up the details of how PTI plans to adjust compensation for bureacracy, as per their economic policy.
Shahid Sep 01, 2012 09:55am
I think you didn't listen to Imran or the economic agenda, it clearly mentions about increased salaries for govt servants.
Imran Sep 01, 2012 01:43pm
So lets all vote for Zardari again shall we?
observer Sep 02, 2012 02:16am
Imran Khan better suits social work. He is popular, a strong individual, and has good exposure to the world. But when he tries to be a politician and attempts to show that he has opinion about everything (aka political ideology), he badly fails. Can he go back to social work and be Anna Hazare of Pakistan instead of becoming another politician who is in either in jail or in government. If his objective is to serve the country, there are better ways than becoming PM of Pakistan.
Raza Sep 02, 2012 11:25am
Imran's tsunami is Jihad against corruption and we all must participate in this noble cause. Do agree that it's a time taking task and can't be eradicated overnight. To get to that point we have to start NOW and this is the time to elect Imran - who we trust can lead us to achieve this target. Inshallah.
n.qureshi Sep 02, 2012 03:18am
imran khan should stick to his charitable work.
jalaluddin S. Hussain Sep 02, 2012 03:27am
We need to encourage Imran Khan in his anti-corruption work. It is a slow process but democracy can help in the long run.
Mustafa Razavi Sep 02, 2012 03:31am
This free advice is still overpriced.
umairsabir Sep 02, 2012 03:45am
Indeed free advice for Imran Khan. I little doubt his intentions but as you mention, corruption cannot be completely eliminated but only reduced in 90 days.
from india Sep 01, 2012 08:46am
a sane writer ...since last 10 years....
Khalid Sep 04, 2012 09:18am
And we also know how it went for ZAB,BB,and Nawaz Sharif and writer will soon find out how it goes for Zardari. LOL all of whom left no stone unturned to loot and destroy the country. Ayub Khan (the so called dictator) was the only leader who achieved so much for Pakistan during his tenure, he built schools, colleges and universities,major dams, road and bridges,major industries and city of Islamabad and he deserves proper credit for that, his era is considered golden era of Pakistan. and finally IMRAN KHAN IS THE LAST HOPE WE HAVE TO SAVE PAKISTAN from these thieves of today.
Fayez Sep 02, 2012 10:25pm
Maybe because you have not spent 17 years of your life for the cause and grown naturally along the way?
BRR Sep 01, 2012 04:06am
As long as people gte swayed by slogans and promises, politicians will make them. Now Imran Khan, surrrounded by politicians of all sorts, cannot be that naieve. He is just playing the game and his followers are surprisingly being led to the slaughter with their eyes open.
umer Sep 02, 2012 08:35am
I have noticed that a lot of people are willing to give I.K a go at Prime ministership just because he hasn't been tried before..If that's the criterion then why not elect me as the PM. I'm a well-meaning Pakistani who has never held an office before. I have radical plans for taking Pakistan into the ranks of developed countries within a couple of years. You only have to elect me as the PM.
Farid Midhet Sep 01, 2012 11:40am
Not just the bureaucracy but everything is a corruption mafia in Pakistan, in both public and private sectors. In Karachi alone, millions of gallons of water is sold by the 'tanker mafia' every day, while the same water could have been pumped into the system. Many years ago, Herald published a special issue on corruption, with the front cover title of "Corruption Incorporated Limited" used for our country. Irfan Sahib is right: if Army dictators could not root out corruption, no civilian government can, unless we have an educated and politically aware population, which is many decades away, thanks to our BMW system (Bureaucracy, Military and Wader/Feudal system, a term coined by Ardsher Cowasjee many years ago). Bottom line: The more things change in Pakistan, the more they remain the same.
BNS Sep 01, 2012 03:16pm
Reality check, I guess.
Syed Sep 01, 2012 09:50am
Very well said. I have a similar experience of my own, that's why I left the country, and am still waiting for an an appropriate time to return. May be when I am close to death, like most others return, when they are on their deathbed. But I admit, that I am a weakling, someone has to take the first step. He or she is most likely to fail, but if a lots of persons do the same and fail, then according to the law of probability someone is likely to succeed. So good luck with him. I am willing to follow.
Imran Sep 02, 2012 07:42am
Apart from everything, Khan should be given the benefit of doubt for not been in power unlike PML N and PPP. Plus we all know he not not corrupt as far as financial issues are concerned. Why should we try the same someone again and again. Khan might be worst then all before him but yet to be seen. So lets see him as least
wallace ali Sep 01, 2012 09:48am
good idea, police should have better salaries and better working conditions, they should get facilities like the army does, better schools for their kids, pension .
Sayyed Mehdi Sep 02, 2012 07:46pm
For that, sir, you'll need to field candidates from quite a few constituencies. You'll also need to make the majority of Pakistanis know who you are and what you're standing up for. The public will surely think about giving you a chance too, then.
Unni Sep 01, 2012 04:51pm
even if you hike the salary they will continiue to take bribe because the " law of diminishing effect" is not applicable to money greedy person.
A. Bose Sep 01, 2012 04:52pm
The scourge of extreme corruption spreads across entire South-East Asia with India as a front runner. It is unfortunate but is a brutal reality. I wish Mr. Hussain uses his columns in exposing these realities in India. I'm an Indian and shamed of corrupt nature of my home country. I stayed in India briefly but still remember that our driver paying traffic polices in broad daylight while driving through no-entries. It seems like we are encouraging these corruption by breaking rules without any end in sight. Are we ever be able to remove this curse of corruption?
Muhammad Saber Sep 01, 2012 04:54pm
All kinds of corruption stem from government sectors. The salary of an employ of the lowest grade should be increased to such an extent so that he may spend a normal life. The salaries of higher grades should be increased accordingly. After these steps if any one still engages in corrupt practices, he must be punished severely.
Lorraine Sep 01, 2012 03:10pm
The battle against corruption will be a long, slow one. Corruption developed slowly over a long period of time, it will not be eradicated in 5 minutes. However a start must be made somewhere.
Ahmed Khan Sep 01, 2012 07:19pm
Very shallow thinking! Of course you can eradicate corruption no matter how deeply entrenched it is in the society. Just implement and enforce the law and most importantly the punishment. Increase penalties and even introduce death sentence in certain severe cases, such as big embezzlements and losses to the exchequer . You will see how corruption disappears from Pakistan. Transferring bureaucrats and such light measures are ridiculous and ineffective attempts. Introduce death penalties as in the case of drugs in South east Asia. Then you will see how corruption disappears from Pakistan!!! Wake up!
Farooq Sep 01, 2012 04:33pm
While corruption can never be entirely weeded out from a society (even developed nations, as mentioned in the article, have varying degrees of corruption), it has to be reduced to a level where the day to day functions of the state are not compromised (e.g. access to basic justice, social services and maintenance of law and order). While this systemic corruption currently ingrained within our society will obviously take time to be reduced, Imran's claim is that he will root out "top level corruption" within 90 days, which is entirely achievable if the country's top leadership is corruption-free itself.
Imran Sep 01, 2012 05:15am
A couple of things that need to be addressed here: I agree that low pay scales make bribes tempting. However, if there is rule of law in the country, this should be possible for anyone to survive with the salary they are getting. For Imran Khan, I usually give the example of our cricket team whenever I refer to the state of coordination and the will to work together for a larger goal. Only 11 people cannot agree that they need to play for Pakistan. But what they are interested in is their personal gain. Therefore Mr. Khan should not forget how difficult it was for him to lead those 11 individuals, let it be the millions of selfish cruel individuals that run the country. We learnt an exercise as part of project management, called Logical framework analysis. I will suggest for Mr. Khan and anybody else to grow through the same exercise. Without clear objectives and understanding the risks, such statements are just the words of another political leader.
EmMoosa Sep 01, 2012 06:21am
Once the most powerful of that time ruler of Pakistan Gen. Ziaul Haq said he could not eliminate corruption from our society because it is now part of our economy. You see how helpless he was.
M. Saeed Awan Sep 08, 2012 07:52am
I agree with Irfan Hussain whose gist is that Imran Khan isn't able to eliminate corruption in the country what people dream. Since most of Sonami Khan's supporters are young who haven't any political maturity. That's the reason they just dream but unaware of reality. Pakistan has become ungovernable state. I wonder what Khan has magic wand that he will end corruption within short span. Our country isn't facing only corruption but many other political, geographical threats that needs to be solved first to pave the way for further actions. In my words Imran Khan is no doubt a sincere politician like Nawaz Sharif but he is arrogant, short sighted and above all political immature. I suggest he should work hard and throw away backing of ESTABLISHMENT.
SAEED KHAN Sep 01, 2012 11:04am
i would love to see imran khan as head of Pakistan state We have tried all politicians and dictators,although I am a great .a great admirer of Ayub Khan in whose time most of the industries were established,but alas thanks to his sons who were responsible for his fall. All the best for Imran
Addy Sep 01, 2012 11:07am
a very intelligent insight
kashif saif dhillon Sep 01, 2012 04:15pm
bureacracy is real ruling elite of this country you can not put checks on it and if anyone deem to eradicate the evil ghost of corruption he has to rein the bureacracy..,
MAJanjua Sep 01, 2012 11:29am
Very rightly suggested as this menace of corruption is global and no human power appears to be competent to eliminate this. Yes efforts could be made to minimise it's magnitude.
Jamil Sep 01, 2012 04:13pm
Did Imran ever say that he will end corruption at all levels within 90 days? I don
Cyrus Howell Sep 01, 2012 06:59pm
"If I am elected President I promise free petrol for every motorbike, free rice for every family and a clinic on every block." "I'll work out the details later."
Saif Sep 02, 2012 04:11am
I think the writer has got it all wrong. Imran never said that he will end corruption in the country in 90 days. What Imran had said in his Karachi speech was that he would end corruption from all high offices of government in 90 days. That is not impossible. The writer needs to get his hands on the recording of that Karachi public meeting and listen to Imran's speech again.
Ali Khan Sep 01, 2012 04:02pm
What he meant was top level corruption like among his cabinet members.
mohammad hamza Sep 01, 2012 12:19pm
Naive slogans by a cricketer can be pardoned for its Quixotic content but the voters must be sensible where they put their trust. Perhaps Imran forgets the match fixing of which he was a part and how it has continued unabated not to be eliminated in 9 or ninety days ever.. Corruption is not of money alone it is an abuse of power and cronyism as Khan himself indulged in against Miandad's captaincy or sidelining him for the very World Cup where Miandad was eventually became the main architect of qualifying for victory. Politics is neither cricket and Pakistan is nor Shaulat Khanum. Imran must understand this
Rattan(Sydney) Sep 02, 2012 10:30am
Quresshi sahab,after a long time there comes a man who calls a spade a spade.Imran has been in the west and he could have comfortably stayed there.please suppot him and he might change the course and history of Pakistan.
Ram Sep 01, 2012 06:09pm
The worst thing about the corruption is the inefficiency of it. It is possible to mark up 10% or whatever if we know that the work gets done sincerely. But since the whole thing runs on greed an dishonesty, it is just a matter of time before the rate slowly starts to increase and the time dilates.
Hasan Sep 01, 2012 05:58pm
I does not matter how long Imran Khan or anyone else takes to eliminate corruption. Someone has to start the process. Has anyone other than Imran declared any such intention. They cannot because they all haves lot of corrupt baggage. Two simple steps to start the process are: devolution of power to the Tehsil level and introduction of public hearing system. But remember: all big problems have very simple solutions which are very difficult to implement. If a significant number of people become serious about eliminating corruption and put in sustained effort things will change. Somebody has to start the process.
imran Sep 01, 2012 05:54pm
I had to deal with Army in two different contracts last month, both construction realted. To the disappointment of writer, both the times, miliatry commanders insisted on quality work and zero leakage of resources. I think the writer has gone too far in describing his own experiences. I still remember my Maths school teacher who refused any tution fee from his class boys. I have so many other examples, all what is nrequired is leadership. Dont make us hopeless
taimy Sep 01, 2012 11:55am
The writer seems to not have fully grasped Imran Khan's view before he complains about Imran Khan not grasping something. For example, Imran Khan has repeatedly said that low salaries are one reason for corruption at lower level. He has repeatedly said that police and civil servants salaries be raised. He supported doctors (not their strike) in Punjab who were demanding raise in salary and job package. So of course Imran Khan has already "grasped" this fact that the author is alluding to. This is the problem with many of IK's critics: They have not studied him fully but yet feel the need to critic him. Sep 01, 2012 11:57am
Irfan you must understand and accept that the world has changed. the British colonial system based on PAs , peons & hand typewriters is now rotten. Whole bureaucracy is nothing but a burden on public funds. Their incapacity to understand their subject is the main cause of corruption and bad governance. e,g. Now what achievement teh office of AG has achieved . the ting done by Sos, DS , AS & Directors , AD etc can now be done by single desktop computer. What we need is to equip with new form of government being run by youngsters from private sector with well set objectives & targets. They will themselves take care of the corrupt regime. Successful examples is that of motorway police in Punjab , & to some extent Nadra ID card centers.
abdul manan Sep 01, 2012 01:22pm
i am agree that imran khan shows unmaturity in his slogans and speech and i also agree with columnist comments.But in our country we need a leadership who have sound mind,noble and unemotional.i think imran khan is empty these qualities so the outher should forward his suggestions to others.
Ehsan ul haq Sep 02, 2012 01:50am
True democraric leadership can bring change .Not the dictators like Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia and Musharraf .
naeem ullah khan Sep 01, 2012 11:52am
IMRAN KAHN:- said he will finish corruption from the top in even 19 or 90 days. You know you have to start from somewhere, if the leader himself is not corrupt. corruption will over gradually.
ysk Sep 01, 2012 07:00am
Thanks for painting the true picture of corruption in our society. Personally, I dont think IK means to literally end all corruption in Pakistan in 90 days. He probably means corruption at highest level. Ending all corruption would just be a political slogan for masses who want quick fix to all in few days.
e Sep 01, 2012 09:39pm
sincere political will can do wonder
Hasan Sep 01, 2012 11:02pm
I agree, the timeline may be unrealistic and solution presented may be too simplistic but the start has to be made. Imran is the best person at this time to resolve this issue as it requires a strong will and sincerity.
Ehsan ul haq Sep 01, 2012 10:54pm
Dictators can
Agha Ata Sep 01, 2012 02:24pm
Can't we bribe you to stop writing such discouraging articles? (laughing)
Khurram Khalid Sep 01, 2012 06:40pm
The writer spoke my heart.
abubakar Sep 03, 2012 07:03pm
sayyed mehdi. well said
Humanist Sep 01, 2012 07:09pm
Its mere empty Slogan Khan
Jaideep Gupta Sep 01, 2012 03:44pm
It is heartening to note that Imran Khan wants to weep out corruption from the society .Though the matter is a very difficult one as Mr.Irfan Hussain rightly pointed out but we shall of course appreciate his mentality. May be his predecessors could not eradicate it from the polity because of some compulsions but without belittling their role we should not forget that after all they were political persons which Mr. Khan is not.I shall every way welcome his mentality and hope he shall keep his promise if voted to power.
Rafi Aziz Sep 02, 2012 06:42am
I honestly believe that coruption can be curtailed to a minimal level and the public and private officials can be forced to thibk straight. IT will have to start with an honest and proactive leadership. The examples of Mr. Irfan Khan were all the people with their hands in the till. What peole sense immediately is the hyprcracy of the leaders and enforcers. So, unless you gove the absolute power to somebody like Imran Khan, it will be unrealistic to believe that he can do anything to change or make a dent. It is up to the public to elect. After all they did trust Military, Bhuttos and the Sharifs and Altafs. What is wrong with one more mistake . We cannot be worse off than what we have now. Rafi Aziz
Rehman Khattack Sep 01, 2012 06:17pm
At least Imran is in Pakistan, trying his best for the country, and not roaming around the world enjoying freebie holidays like the writer.
Nabil Malik Sep 01, 2012 08:03pm
Apparently the author has not heard PTI's strategy to substantially reduce corruption, or just does not want to listen to someone's vision to handle corruption (due to complete hopelessness with him). None of the corruption examples quoted are were given the treatment that PTI is planning to give. In fact, all the examples of corruption cannot sustain if and when PTI's strategy is implemented. Please start listening to them to learn more about their core strategy. In the end the author's talks about "low gov. salaries" problem... I have heard IK making this as a problem that needs to be addressed several time. And that is clearly possible with PTI's strategy. Also, IK has mentioned several times that corruption can never be completely eliminated, but can be substantially reduced. The author should stop living in his own world and wasting his other others time in writing such articles and start listening to them. This will help him develop hope that was once there before he faced corruption. He needs to understand that that his way of handling corruption (one man show) was doomed to fail. IK has struggled for 16 years to develop the party and the ground level support to eliminate corruption. This is at a much larger scale.
Venky Sep 01, 2012 08:06pm
Corruption cannot be eradicated fully. Even in most free market western countries corruption in some form exist but not in the lowest level since most services are available at request. From what Irfan husain writing, it looks the very same people he mentioned above as mafia group will ensure Imran Khan does not get in there if he is really talking truth.
Rehman Khattack Sep 01, 2012 06:15pm
But in your opinion Pakistani politics does have space for crooks. I would rather have a man with a sincere heart than the crooks and the capitalists.