FeaturedNationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 12

Worsening corruption perceptions in Pakistan

Pakistan’s decreasing ranking on the Corruption Perceptions Index shows the problem is not limited to any government or institution but it is an all-pervasive and deep-rooted issue in society. It is ironic that both government and opposition remained silent after the Transparency International released its findings because both have been in power in the last year, when corruption increased in the country.

The opposition blames the present coalition government for bulldozing anti-graft laws and undermining the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) but Pakistan’s corruption rankings dropped by 23 points in Imran Khan’s government, who prided himself for launching a vigorous campaign against corruption. It is a fact that no government has reformed the police, bureaucracy, education, health, power sectors, development authorities, or for that matter, any public dealing department, so the report is not shocking.

Pakistan is ranked 140 on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) among 180 countries, which is the same as last year, but its overall score decreased by one point, which is the lowest in a decade. The report says, “Pakistan too has continued its statistically significant downward trend, this year hitting its lowest score since 2012 at just 27 points amidst ongoing political turmoil. Prime Minister Imran Khan came to power promising to tackle rampant corruption and promote social and economic reforms, but little has been accomplished on any of these fronts since he took the reins in 2018. After he was ousted in a no confidence vote, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) disqualified him from running for office for another five years and filed a plea in session court for criminal proceedings over allegations he failed to declare gifts and profits he made from selling them during his tenure.”

“While awaiting the verdicts from these two cases, it’s most important that the new government does not allow such political scandals to derail comprehensive anti-corruption efforts. It’s time for concrete action with a holistic and effective anti-corruption plan that addresses illicit financial flows and introduces safeguards for civic space,” the report reads. In 2021, Pakistan’s corruption score deteriorated to 28 while it was 31 in 2020.

In contrast to Pakistan, India’s CPI score stood at 40 while Bangladesh was 25. The two countries ranked 85 and 147, respectively. Countries with strong institutions and well-functioning democracies often find themselves at the top of the Index. Denmark tops the ranking, with a score of 90. Finland and New Zealand follow closely with a score of 87. Norway (84), Singapore (83), Sweden (83), Switzerland (82), the Netherlands (80), Germany (79), Ireland (77) and Luxembourg (77) complete the top 10 this year. The index ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and businesspeople. It relies on 13 independent data sources, including bribery, diversion of public funds, officials using their public office for private gain without facing consequences and others, and uses a scale of zero to 100, where zero is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean.

In 2022, more than two-thirds of countries (68pc) scored below 50 and the average global score remains unchanged at 43. Since 2012, 25 countries significantly improved their scores, but in the same period 31 countries significantly declined. On the flip side, countries experiencing conflict or where basic personal and political freedoms are highly restricted tend to earn the lowest marks. Somalia (12), Syria (13), and South Sudan (13) are at the bottom of the index. Venezuela (14), Yemen (16), Libya (17), North Korea (17), Haiti (17), Equatorial Guinea (17) and Burundi (17) are also in the bottom 10.

The CPI shows that corruption remains rampant in Eastern Europe and Central Asia as many countries reach historic lows. As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine rocked the world in 2022, peace decreased in the Eurasian region more than any other according to the Global Peace Index. Across the region, high-level corruption provokes political instability, weakens institutions, strengthens organised crime and even incites such violent conflict. Altynai Myrzabekova, Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Advisor of Transparency International said: “This year the international community saw the most violent result of unchecked corruption and kleptocracy. It’s time for a wake-up call for Eastern European and Central Asian leaders to finally commit to addressing pervasive corruption and support democracy, stability and basic freedoms for all people across the region.”

The Eastern Europe and Central Asia average showed decline this year, dropping one point to 35. Georgia (56), Armenia (46) and Montenegro (45) lead and are the only three countries from the region that score above the global average of 43. Turkmenistan (19), Azerbaijan (23) and Tajikistan (24) are the lowest in the region. Serbia (36), Turkey (36), Bosnia and Herzegovina (34) and Azerbaijan (23) are all at historic lows this year. Since 2017, Armenia (46), Moldova (39) and Uzbekistan (31) have all significantly improved their CPI scores.

Years of inaction against corruption have allowed kleptocrats to take control, undermined democratic processes, restricted civic space and weakened public institutions – fuelling violence, conflict and instability in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 was a stark reminder of the threat that corruption and the absence of government accountability pose for global peace and security: kleptocrats in Russia (28) have amassed great fortunes by pledging loyalty to President Vladimir Putin in exchange for profitable government contracts and protection of their economic interests. The absence of any checks on Putin’s power allowed him to pursue his geopolitical ambitions with impunity. This attack destabilised the European continent, threatening democracy and has killed tens of thousands. In Kazakhstan (36) long-simmering discontent over inequality and corruption – especially the former Kazakh ruling family’s allegedly ill-gotten wealth – boiled over in January 2022. A spike in fuel prices sent people onto the streets for protests and ultimately violent riots. More than 200 people died, and security forces are accused of torturing injured protestors they detained, according to the report.

Corruption has been a part of Pakistani society and politics for decades. No government can be blamed solely for rampant corruption in the country but  steps have not been taken to reform departments dealing with the public. It is time Pakistan took measures to curb corruption to get rid of its financial problems.