Corruption vs. good governance

CorruptionBy S. M. Hali

“Corruption” is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery.”There are many types of corruption but for the scope of this article two basic types may be considered. Petty corruption occurs at a smaller scale and within established social frameworks and governing norms. Examples include the exchange of small improper gifts or use of personal connections to obtain favours. This form of corruption is particularly common in developing countries and where public servants are significantly underpaid.

The second and more alarming type with deep rooted implications is Grand Corruption, which is defined as corruption occurring at the highest levels of government in a way that requires significant subversion of the political, legal and economic systems. Such corruption is commonly found in countries with authoritarian or dictatorial governments but also in those without adequate policing of corruption.

Before taking up the case of Pakistan, it is imperative to look at what comprises “Good Governance”.

The concept of “Good Governance” was first mentioned in a 1989 World Bank Report on Africa, which defines it as the “exercise of political power to manage nations’ affairs. Good governance includes some or all of the following features: an efficient public service; an independent judicial system and legal framework to enforce contracts; accountable administration of public funds; an independent public auditor, responsible to a representative legislature; respect for the law and human rights at all levels of government; a pluralistic institutional structure, and a free press.”

In Pakistan, the concept of good governance unfortunately has become a myth, apart from a relatively free judiciary and media, the rest are absent. Subsequent governments, whether military or civilian, have raised slogans against corruption, vowed to weed out the menace but subsequently succumbed to the temptation of corruption either directly indulging in the abhorrent practice or tolerating cronies, family members or political allies engaged in the despicable act.

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In Orwellian fashion, as spelt out in his 1945 allegorical and dystopian novelette ‘Animal Farm’, even revolutions started with the best of intentions have ended up in its prime characters submitting to corrupt practices.

In the Pakistani milieu, systemic or endemic corruption has prevailed, which occurs primarily due to the weaknesses of an organization or process; in our case the government itself. Factors which encourage systemic corruption include conflicting incentives, discretionary and monopolistic powers; lack of transparency; low pay; and a culture of impunity. Small wonder then that government officials indulge in bribery, extortion, and embezzlement in a system where “corruption becomes the rule rather than the exception.”

Each government, which was voted into power or allegedly usurped power through corrupt practices, has proved to be more dishonest than its predecessors. The current standoff between the government and two protesting groups, has at least done the nation a service that various aspects of corruption indulged in by the sitting government and even the ones allegedly committed by the protesters, have laid bare the ugly charges of corruption, fraud, embezzlement, sleaze and graft indulged into by the politicians. The people of Pakistan are at least now fully cognizant of the level and extent of corruption indulged in by different quarters but horrified at the scale of it. They have rightly concluded that a large edifice of government organizations has become infected by the disease of corruption.

That however is small mercy since identifying the malaise is only the tip of the iceberg. The major challenge is tackling the severe problem of corruption, stemming the rot and rooting it out.

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Corruption is a significant obstacle for good governance, supremacy of law and rational use of authority to run the affairs of state and maintain public cohesion and national harmony. Corrupt practices and misuse of public office lead to severe feelings of despondency and the frustration that the very leaders in whom the masses had reposed their confidence to lead them and pull them out of the quagmire are heartlessly oblivious of their predicament and instead are more concerned with feathering their own nest.

That is the reason why educated masses have responded to the call of both the protesting leaders for eradicating corruption. The point of contention is the non-parliamentary process adopted. The masses remain confused as protesting PAT and PTI raise their voice airing the grievances of the people but the ruling elite and its allies, alleged partners in the crime of corruption, the opposition term the protests as unlawful and unconstitutional.

Amidst the chaos and mayhem, political leaders have appallingly tried to drag the Armed Forces into the political impasse created by them. At this hour of trial and tribulation the armed forces of Pakistan are engaged in a major operation, Zarb-e-Azb, to root out the demon of terrorism and also leading the effort in rescuing the stranded masses caught in the unprecedented deluge.  To try and cast aspersions on the armed forces for being responsible for the catastrophe of protests or manipulating the strings from behind the scenes was fiendish. Both for putting the blame on a major institution, which has not only cleared its name through its spokesperson but also it was not expected that it would take time out from fighting the battle for Pakistan in the treacherous terrain of North Waziristan with immense sacrifice of its officers and men to indulge in the plot being insinuated by certain politicians. The natural calamity of the floods put further strain on the armed forces but without a murmur or demur, they rushed in to help their brothers and sisters in distress again without concern to their own safety and the men and women in uniform sacrificed numerous lives of their own only to serve the nation in its moment of need.

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For politicians to seek scapegoats for their own poor governance, maladministration and rampant corruption is a serious transgression. Failing to provide adequate education, medical facilities power sources, law and order and employment is a major shortcoming, in the realm of poor governance, aggravated by charges of corruption. It is time to take an introspective look to stem the rot.

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