Not all is Transparent in Pakistan

Gulf News, November 23, 2005

The global anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International, published its annual Corruption Perception Index for 2005 ten days after parts of Pakistan were hit by a massive earthquake. One cannot blame the media for overlooking Transparency’s latest report under such circumstances.

Transparency International is a Berlin-based organisation that based its latest Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) on 16 different surveys from 10 independent institutions. The CPI, according to Transparency, “is a composite survey, reflecting the perceptions of business people and country analysts, both resident and non-resident”. In other words, it reflects what foreigners doing business with a country think of the level of corruption they must deal with in the course of their business.

More than two-thirds of the 159 nations surveyed in Transparency International’s 2005 CPI scored less than 5 out of a clean score of 10, indicating serious levels of corruption in a majority of the countries surveyed. Among the countries included in the Index, corruption is perceived as most rampant in Chad, Bangladesh, Turkmenistan, Myanmar and Haiti also among the poorest countries in the world. Iceland pushed Finland into second position this year as the least corrupt country from the perspective of international businessmen.

In the 2004 Transparency International index, Finland was identified as the world’s least corrupt country and the most corrupt countries were Bangladesh and Haiti. According to TI, “The index defines corruption as the abuse of public office for private gain, and measures the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among a country’s public officials and politicians.”

The scores on TI’s index range from 10 (squeaky clean) to zero (highly corrupt). TI considers a score of 5.0 as “the borderline figure distinguishing countries that do and do not have a serious corruption problem”.

Where does Pakistan feature this year? It scored a cumulative rating of 2.1 and tied at No. 144 with Congo, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Paraguay and Tajikistan, making it the fifth most corrupt country in the world. Iraq, notwithstanding the alleged Halliburton scandals, ranked No. 137. Afghanistan, another war-torn country with tremendous potential for corruption, came out much better at No. 117.

For Pakistanis, who must compare their country with India to feel happy about their place in the sun, India was considered a far cleaner place to do business with a 2.9 rating and a ranking of 88, almost 66 places above Pakistan’s position.

By way of further comparison, one must note that Pakistan’s rating in the 2003 survey on a scale of 1 to 10 was 2.5 and in 2004 it had already fallen to 2.1. Pakistan was tied in 6th position as the most corrupt country in 2004 whereas it was in 11th position in 2003. Now, in fifth position, it is apparent that the country’s performance in corruption is climbing to higher positions.

During the mid-1990s Pakistanis felt dishonoured by the revelation that Transparency International had listed Pakistan as the second most corrupt country in the world. Apologists for Pakistan’s establishment used this factoid to run down Pakistan’s politicians and blamed them for bringing Pakistan to this point.

Once the establishment had run the politicians down and used corruption as an excuse for increasing its power in a succession of palace coups, discussion over Pakistan’s rating for corruption by Transparency International has seldom made news.

Hardly anyone has noticed, for example, that Pakistan’s rating for perceived corruption increased in 2005 over the 2004 rating, which was itself worse than the evaluation for 2003. Had elected civilians been in office, the intelligence services would have ensured headlines highlighting the increase in corruption.

The fact that Pakistan’s ranking in the Corruption Perceptions Index is climbing under a military government that claims to have eliminated corruption in high places is especially important. Between 1988 and 1999 no elected civilian government was allowed to complete its term because of alleged corruption.

The 1999 military coup that brought General Pervez Musharraf to power was also justified on grounds that Pakistan’s generals were better suited to wage the war against corruption.

If the country’s global standing in the realm of corruption remains the same irrespective of who governs then why should we not stick to the constitution and, at least, evolve as a nation politically by putting the military back in the barracks? Clearly, deviation from constitutional governance and frequent ouster of elected leaders does not bring corruption to an end.

The Pakistani establishment uses corruption as an excuse to boot out or denigrate the politicians while covering up the corruption and other ethical lapses of military officers and civil servants.

Honest Pakistanis must carry on their struggle against corruption but we must also remain aware that anti-corruption rhetoric has been used by the country’s establishment to deprive the country of democratic governance and popular participation in government.