Corruption is the real challenge
The problem is that mostly those who have amassed wealth through illegal means can afford the luxury of elections
Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif congratulated the nation over the discovery of iron, gold and copper reserves in Chiniot and expressed the hope that it would help the county break its begging bowl. He regretted that acute scarcity of resources was a hindrance in overcoming gas and electricity shortages, and spending on education, health, employment and the social sector was limited. He had the moral courage to admit that “corruption is rampant in society; touch any brick and there is filth and dirt under it”. Transparency International, in its report for 2014, has stated: “Though politicians in Pakistan constantly accuse each other of corrupt practices and vow to end this evil, when they come to power, corruption continues to rise in Pakistan and the rest of South Asia.” But how can a corrupt person be held responsible by a corrupt authority or an institution that is itself corrupt?
According to another report, it is not just the increasing cost of doing business in Pakistan that drives away foreign investment; many companies find problems with the speed with which tasks are accomplished in Pakistan. Reportedly, Walt Disney pulled approximately $ 200 million worth of yearly textile production from Pakistan and put the country on a banned list of approved supplier countries. The company labelled Pakistan a risk to their flow of business. Such an environment is an obstacle to foreign investment. Of course, India, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal are sailing in the same boat. “South Asia now is the worst region in the world when it comes to corruption based on our studies,” said Srirak Plipat, Transparency International’s regional director for Asia Pacific.
It is a matter of grave concern that corruption has deeply permeated every strata of our society. Scandals regarding corruption, misappropriation, plundering of billions from banks and other federal, provincial and semi-government departments abound. According to an earlier Transparency International Pakistan report, Pakistan lost more than Rs 8,500 billion (Rs 8.5 trillion or $ 94 billion) in corruption, tax evasion and bad governance during the last four years of the PPP government. Though the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) claimed that it had recovered a part of the plundered money, most culprits either escaped or were honourably acquitted by the courts due to a lacuna in prosecution and investigation, lack of evidence or witnesses. During the Zia era, as a result of the Afghan war, US dollars flooded the market but, since 1988, corruption has broken all previous records.
In the past, efforts were made to reduce corruption. During the Ayub era, a number of corruption-tainted politicians were barred from participating in the elections under the Elective Bodies Disqualification Order (EBDO) but they were never tried and convicted. During Yahya Khan’s martial law, 303 civil servants and government functionaries were summarily dismissed but were not prosecuted. During the Bhutto era, the services of around 1,100 government employees were terminated without holding any trial against them with the result that those involved in serious cases of corruption were let off the hook. There was another package for the corrupt under Pervez Musharraf’s watch on April 30, 2000 when the Central Board of Revenue announced a tax amnesty scheme to legalise all hidden assets and black money by charging 10 percent of the undisclosed income earned on or before June 30, 1999.
One cannot find such an example anywhere else of rewarding tax evaders and those who have plundered the national exchequer. In other words, nobody tried to set an example to deter others from pursuing corrupt practices. In 1996, Transparency International declared Pakistan the second most corrupt country in the world where corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, black marketers, smugglers, tax evaders and the drug mafia were ‘rewarded’ through general amnesty schemes or through opportunities to whiten their black money. In this connection, the bureaucracy played an ignominious role by misguiding the government not to act tough because, otherwise, there would be flight of capital and the economy would collapse. The problem is that mostly those who have amassed wealth through illegal means can afford the luxury of elections. Such elements first invest to reach the corridors of power with a view of increasing their wealth and then they want to be re-elected to protect that ill-gotten wealth. However, there is a need to take measures to stop unethical and corrupt practices, and to block the corrupt elements’ entry into the corridors of power. But who can bell the cat, when a majority of the robber barons sit in the assemblies?
Unfortunately, this corruption has not only deprived the national exchequer of its revenues and eroded the profitability of state sector enterprises but has also destroyed the very fabric of society. It is also responsible for having brought the country to the brink of economic disaster. In 1998, the late Dr Mehboobul Haq estimated tax evasion to the extent of Rs 100 billion through the manipulation of accounts, in addition to the tax evasion of around Rs 100 billion by the parallel or informal economy. But now the estimated loss to the exchequer is estimated at Rs 1,000 billion. The tiny elite, comprising of jagirdars, industrial robber barons, corrupt bureaucracy and rapacious politicians, has kept complete control over the state, its resources and all levers of power. They neither had the vision nor the will to build a modern and egalitarian society, though Pakistan had all the resources and ingredients to achieve the objectives set by the founding fathers.