NationalVolume 12 Issue # 13

Will the darkness ever dissipate?

The government and the National Accountability Bureau are taking credit for a considerable dip in Pakistan’s position in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index. The PML-N ministers and officials are writing articles in newspapers to highlight the achievement, but it is a fact that corruption has decreased in the country only because of the struggle of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan, not the government.

Corruption has been part of Pakistani politics for decades. All graft-busting institutions, like the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), have failed to perform. The Panama case would not have reached the Supreme Court of Pakistan for adjudication, if the institutions had been performing, the court itself observed recently. In another case, the court observed that NAB was promoting corruption in the country through plea bargains, instead of checking it. In a mega corruption case of recovery of a heavy amount of currency and gold from Balochistan’s former Finance Secretary Mushtaq Raisani and Finance Minister Khalid Lango, the Supreme Court said NAB was losing the trust of the masses with the passage of every second and had the worst state of affairs.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had launched its 2013 general election campaign with claims of “dragging the corrupt through the streets of Pakistan,” but it has not taken concrete steps to stamp out corruption from the country. The PML-N ministers savage PTI leader Jahangir Tareen daily for getting loans written off, but the present government has waived loans of billions of rupees in its tenure. According to details provided to the Punjab Assembly last week, Rs1.589.3 billion, extended to 168 companies and individuals, were written off along with the mark-up by the Bank of Punjab in the last eight years. The only justification given in the official document for written-off loans was “business consideration” or “settlement of default cases.” Though the Punjab government claims the loans were written off without any political consideration, yet it is a fact that the bank was created to serve the needs of the ruling party.

A few months ago, the Ministry of Finance informed the Senate that commercial banks had waived Rs280 billion loans during the tenure of the present government from 2013-15. In a written reply to a question asked by Senator Azam Khan Swati about written-off loans during the last 30 years, the Finance Ministry submitted that Rs430.975 billion had been written off from 1990 to 2015. The beneficiaries included public and private companies, commercial and government banks, industrialists and retired military generals.

According to the Transparency International report, Pakistan, for the first time since 1996, when the first Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) was published, has climbed up from the lowest one-third corrupt countries to the middle one-third countries in 2016. Pakistan fared better than most of its South Asian counterparts, coming in second after China in reducing corruption. Pakistan has improved by two points—moving from 30 to 32 out of 100. Pakistan’s rank in the CPI 2016 improved by nine spots, moving to 61 in the list of most corrupt countries among 176 countries in 2016, from 52 among 168 countries in 2015. Comparison of data for Asia Pacific Region and neighbouring countries ranks Pakistan (116) higher than Nepal (131), Iran (131), Bangladesh (145), Turkmenistan (154), Uzbekistan (156) and Afghanistan (169).

According to the Pakistan government’s own admission, over 30pc of the population of the country lives below the poverty line, if $2 is considered to be the minimum daily wage. Transparency International must have some yardsticks to gauge corruption, but the public perception of graft in federal and provincial departments remains the same. Corruption is rife in all departments in the Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan, which make up almost 90pc of the country. Only the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has reformed the police and the revenue department, which have direct dealing with the public. It could have been reforms in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that improved Pakistan’s ranking in the corruption index.

According to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), daily corruption in Pakistan could amount to Rs 12 billion. The NAB has failed to deliver and politicians have become superrich and stashed billions of dollars abroad. The Panama case proves it. The PML-N government paid a Rs580b circular debt after coming to power, which has reached the same level again. Politicians face 150 cases which involve over $200 billion of corruption. The Nandipur power project, Metro Bus Service, Punjab Youth Festival and pilferage of funds in the Punjab Education Department have not been probed. A Rs200 billion Orange Train project in Lahore and a $46b Pakistan China Economic Corridor project also need more transparency in their execution.

The government’s self-projection on the Corruption Perceptions Index is in contrast to its performance in curbing the scourge in Pakistan. The ruling party has only paid lip service to transparency and accountability and failed to make laws for a fair and uniform accountable system. It cannot tell the people about any mechanism to make government departments corruption-free. Only the PTI government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has depoliticized the police. It has removed corruption in the department to a large extent. The police in all other provinces remain highly politicized and corrupt. The PTI government also passed the whistle-blower protection law. Sindh and Balochistan, the Punjab and the Centre, where the PML-N rules, have no such law.

When the government has not reformed laws and empowered the institutions to curtail corruption, it has no justification to claim credit for it. If someone deserves the credit, it is Imran Khan. Through his persistent focus on corruption, he has built a national narrative against corruption in Pakistan. He has educated and created awareness amongst the general public. His role will always be lauded, if Pakistan makes progress against corruption. It is a reality and the government should accept it.