Impartial accountability

Zahid Awan

The writer is an entrepreneur and a senior politician.

As economic stress inflicts pain on Pakistani households and the accountability process led by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) continues, it has become an oft-repeated view that corruption is to blame for the country’s financial woes. Since corruption plays a vital role in hollowing out the roots of societies, it is no exaggeration to call corruption the biggest problem in Pakistan.

This line has been largely pushed by ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, with Prime Minister Imran Khan using his pulpit to make the point both at home and abroad. But according to international reports, corruption in Pakistan has steadily increased in the last two years and the country is falling further in the world rankings in terms of corruption.

Corruption has become a scourge in Pakistani society. From the top political leadership to the Patwari, from the councilor to the contractor, no one misses the opportunity.  Several cartels control commodity prices, and influence import and export policies, duties and levies that can often be detrimental to local industry, producers and farmers and their livelihoods.

Bureaucratic and political corruption is pervasive around the world and impacts both developed and developing economies. But how other countries fight corruption? Let’s take the example of France. The country’s former President Nicolas Sarkozy was sentenced to three years in jail for corruption. Apart from this, it is common in the world to punish the perpetrators of corruption, but in Pakistan, it is the opposite.

At present, several politicians, including Asif Ali Zardari, Nawaz Sharif, Raja Pervez Ashraf, Yousuf Raza Gilani and Shujaat Hussain, are under trial in corruption cases being investigated by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). Several political leaders, who currently have the portfolios of several ministries, are also under trial. But no action has been taken yet.  

Pakistan is a state with weak institutions, where political instability is the rule and bureaucratic and political corruption is pervasive. This leaves businesses and entrepreneurs with no option but to resort to unlawful practices in order to push things along and circumvent ineffective regulations.

Due to political interference, the NAB has been transformed into a dysfunctional institution where those who plunder state and public resources paid a certain amount as compensation and were given a certificate of the legitimacy of the remaining wealth.

Prime Minister Imran Khan considers eradication of corruption as his first priority. However, no action has been taken against his PTI ministers and members. Jahangir Tareen, Khusro Bakhtiar, Amir Mehmood Kayani and other PTI leaders involved in the artificial shortage of flour, sugar, oil and medicines have been accused of serious corruption. But the current government’s emphasis seems to be limited to suppressing the opposition.

Only time will tell how successful the efforts to eradicate corruption in the country will be and who will be arrested. But if the government is really serious about ending corruption, then impartial accountability should be seen. In such a scenario, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s claims of an end to corruption and the creation of a Medina-style state may be mere political rhetoric, not reality.