FeaturedNationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 13

Worsening corruption perceptions

Transparency International’s latest report is embarrassing for the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government of Prime Minister Imran, who prided himself for launching a vigorous campaign against corruption. On the other hand, citing data from 2018 and praising the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for its “extraordinary efforts” provided an opportunity to government officials to question its credibility.

It is a fact that the government has not reformed the police, bureaucracy, education, health, power sectors, development authorities, or for that matter, any public dealing department, so the report was not shocking and the PTI government should have accepted it wholeheartedly. Instead, it attempted to blame the previous government for the country’s slip by four points in the Corruption Perception Index in the year 2020. It will not serve its cause. It has completed half of its term and it is the time to deliver. It cannot blame past governments for every problem of the country now. At the same time, the opposition cannot absolve itself from the current situation because Pakistan has been among top corrupt countries of the world since the launch of the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) by the Transparency International in 1995. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), one of the two mainstream opposition parties, still rules Sindh, the second most populous province in Pakistan after Punjab. The PPP should also take steps to eliminate corruption from its stronghold, instead of blaming the PTI’s federal government for the whole mess.

The Transparency International ranked Pakistan 124 out of 180 countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) for year 2020. It ranked 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, drawing on 13 expert assessments and surveys of business executives. Denmark and New Zealand topped the index, with 88 points each. Syria, Somalia and South Sudan are at the bottom of the list with 14, 12 and 12 points, respectively. Last year, Pakistan had ranked 120. On a scale of 0-100, with zero being “Highly Corrupt” and 100 being “Very Clean”, the country’s corruption score stands at 31 — a point lower than last year’s 32 — indicating that the perception of corruption in the public sector has worsened. The reason behind the drop in Pakistan’s score on the CPI list was its points in the “Rule of Law Index” and “Varieties of Democracy” (VDem) categories were lower than the last year. It means corruption perceptions about government officials, judiciary and police have worsened.

In contrast, corruption perceptions in other countries in the region marginally improved. India scored 40 points, Iran 25 points and Bangladesh 26 points. Afghanistan’s score (19) also improved by three points and so did Turkey (40). China, with a score of 42, ranks 78 on the list. In 2020, the CPI focused on the impact of corruption on the response to the pandemic and found that persistent corruption not only undermines healthcare systems but also contributes to democratic backsliding. Countries that performed well on the index generally invest more in healthcare and, therefore, are in a better position to provide coverage to all their citizens. They are also less likely to violate democratic norms and institutions or the rule of law, the report said.

As Pakistan lost four points on the CPI, Transparency International-Pakistan has lauded the “extraordinary efforts” of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) which recovered Rs363 billion in the last two years. It is a fact that corruption has not decreased in the PTI government despite NAB’s efforts. It is also a fact that Transparency International’s rankings have become controversial after its last year’s claim that the government of General Pervez Musharraf was the most corrupt, followed by Imran Khan’s government, then the PPP government, and placing the last PML-N government at the bottom, meaning the Nawaz Sharif government was the cleanest of all. It clearly showed the bias towards the PML-N and its allies and against its rivals.

In fact, Transparency International’s reports on Pakistan have been incredible since 2015, when former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who believes everything and everybody can be bought with money, appointed former Transparency International-Pakistan Chairman Adil Gilani as “honorary” consultant and then ambassador to Serbia. It not only exposes the working of international NGOs, which favour certain governments and groups, but also the mindset of the Pakistani rulers to lure institutions and individuals, which can create trouble for them. Critics say former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif rewarded Gilani for making bogus reports in favour of the PML-N government. Almost all reports released by the Transparency International during the PML-N government showed that Nawaz Sharif had not only controlled corruption but also introduced good governance in Pakistan. Gilani still enjoys clout at his former organisation and Pakistan’s ranking in the International Corruption Index started improving only after Gilani’s appointment. It lends credence to doubts he was rewarded for making bogus reports in favour of the PML-N government.

Corruption has been part of Pakistani society and politics for decades. The PTI cannot be blamed solely for rampant corruption in the country, though it has not yet taken steps to reform departments dealing with the public. The opposition, especially the PML-N and the PPP, cannot blame the PTI for it because it has been in power in the Centre for over two years only, while they have been in power for decades. In fact, the PPP still rules Sindh. However, the PTI government will have to reform every department to provide relief to the people at the earliest.