Corruption is so rampant in Pakistan that it is almost a norm of everyday life. Everybody condemns it but most indulge in it without any qualms. These days corruption is also an all-consuming topic in Pakistan’s politics and media. Accusations of corruption are being used to beat opponents and eliminate competitors in politics, administration and personal affairs.
The accountability judges and high courts are occupied with trials of former rulers, Sharifs, Zardaris and others for allegedly parking unexplained billions in London, Dubai and other safe havens. The threat of investigation for corruption hangs over almost every politician and administrator. A national entertainment is scores of popular daily TV verbal cockfights among political opponents, who accuse each other of corruption and illegal acts. This ubiquitous talk of corruption has resulted in the loss of shame in being accused of corruption.
What breeds corruption? Why has it infected so many? These questions have not been part of public discussions.
Of course bribery, misappropriation of funds and properties, self-dealing, black market and selling of fake (number two) stuff are various forms of corruption, all manifest in unexplainable incomes. I contend that most of these activities are also closely tied with incompetence. The two are twins.
Corruption is the encashment of one’s authority and benefiting illegitimately of one’s position. It thrives on the lack of pride in one’s work and neglect of commitment to professional ethics Doctors who do not care for patients, policemen who shake down innocent citizens, merchants who sell fake medicines or officials who patronize land mafias and property grabbers, do not only act illegally and immorally, but also are often incompetent and willfully ignorant of their responsibilities. Not fully comprehending the ethical and legal requirements of one’s job, having little or no pride in work, being indifferent to the harm being done, are the hallmarks incompetence, which morphs into corruption .
To address the problem of corruption, a critical step is to improve both the institutional and individual competence in Pakistan
Competence has to be looked at with a wide-angle lens. It is more than just the knowledge and skills required for a job. It also includes cultural, ethical and legal values required for the performance of a job. For example, a milk seller’s competence includes knowledge about milk’s purity, its source, and calculation of prices but his honesty, courtesy and cleanliness also count. The same applies to every other job or activity from a military commander or minister to a peon. In each case competence is embedded in legal and ethical norms. The shortfall on these aspects of competence lays the ground for corruption.
Institutional competence is another level of performance with a bearing on corruption. Over and above individual competence, the organizational culture has a direct bearing on fulfilling responsibilities of work. An institution may have highly qualified and competent individuals, but if they do not have a suitable structure to do their jobs, the sum of their talents is collective incompetence.
Undoubtedly WAPDA, PIA, police, universities or hospitals in Pakistan have many well-qualified and competent professionals, but their organizational cultures turn them into ineffective cogs in rickety machines. This leaves lining one’s pockets and pursuing personal interests as the satisfactions to be drawn from work.
The anti-corruption drives for catching the corrupt have had poor records. They do not change the system that breeds corruption, but removes some of the corrupt to be replaced by others cleverer in hiding their dishonesty. The history of Pakistan’s anti-corruption efforts is largely a story of increasing corruption as the laws and agencies to combat corruption multiply.
To address the problem of corruption, a critical step is to improve both the institutional and individual competence in Pakistan. Not that the corrupt may not be prosecuted, but for lasting change the so-called ‘system’ has to be reorganized. What it means is three types of reform.
First, both at institutional and individual levels, codes of ethics should be formulated, frequently affirmed and enforced. Make them explicit and consequential.
Second, the rewards and punishments for workers should be tied to their accountability, transparency and efficiency. A citizens’ bill of rights should be enacted to empower people to hold officials answerable for their decisions. For the private sector, clear and easy ways of adjudicating consumers’ complaints need to be established.
Third, there should be incentives for individual workers in both public and private organizations to improve their skills and knowledge through training and education. Salaries, promotions and compensation should be based on performance, as should be job security.
Such reforms will make both the institutions and individuals more competent, committed to their work and take away the motivations for indulging in corruption.
The writer is the author of the book Pakistan – Social and Cultural Transformations in a Muslim Nation