Endemic corruption has been raised to a new art form in Pakistan. The very word ‘corruption’ itself has been corrupted, morphing into the new normal or business as usual. We know that routine transactions and actions, such as obtaining a basic document, will involve bribing a clerk in a government office. Companies actually budget for corruption as the cost of doing business in Pakistan. We have to proffer a bribe to obtain what is our civic or constitutional right. And every time, we hold out a folded currency note and see it slip into a pocket, we are corrupted as well.
Corruption exists at the lowest level, where unscrupulous vendors will try to sell counterfeit medicines as original products, or when the traffic constable extorts money from a taxi-cab driver. But it exists at the lowest levels because it trickles, nay flows down in a torrent, from the very top. Corruption at every level exists because those sitting in the halls of Parliament, the people who should be actively battling corruption through legislation and governance, are themselves guilty.
The decay is a seething mass of pus that has infected every fibre of the body politic. Financial corruption is not easy to prove, but its fruits are blatantly displayed in the form of luxury vehicles plying the roads leading to the National Assembly, whose occupants pay less income tax than a newly employed college graduate fighting his or her way to work on public transport. It is visible in the acknowledged ownership of multi-million dollar properties at home and overseas, whose owners’ declared income is not commensurate with the properties they own or the lifestyles they flaunt.
The decay is a seething mass of pus that has infected every fibre of the body politic.
In its crudest form, corruption can be defined as siphoning off public funds into private accounts or taking kickbacks for government contracts. A key definition of corruption involves the act of obtaining personal benefit for something that it detrimental to the public good. Almost every political party leader is corrupt, in some form or another, and by remaining silent, politicians from their parties, who may personally have never taken a bribe, are guilty of corruption. They maintain their silence to retain their political positions. It is an act as base as an examination invigilator ignoring a cheating student because he is the son of a powerful person, knowing a reward in the form of a promotion will be forthcoming later.
The moral corruption of the elite has transmuted into an air of privilege. Power is wielded carelessly, with utter contempt for laws or even basic decency. From never standing in queues to contemptuously letting others’ homes flood to protect their own properties is seen as their right.
It is not only politicians who are corrupt. Judges, military personnel, bureaucrats, journalists, police officers, lawyers, teachers, activists, union leaders all have corrupt members in their ranks. But the will to purge corruption from all segments of society originates in clean and pure governance. It all loops back in a circle to our political leadership.
Perhaps the ugliest form of corruption is when politicians enact or change laws for personal benefit, or to protect their interests. It is monstrous when these laws are actually detrimental to the public good. We have already seen one law being enacted that will allow convicted persons to hold high political office. We will soon witness amendments in Pakistan’s already rickety accountability laws.
Corruption permeates every strata of society vertically and horizontally. We certainly know where it begins, but we will never know if and when it will end, unless accountability becomes the new norm.
Perhaps the ugliest form of corruption is when politicians enact or change laws for personal benefit, or to protect their interests
What choices do the people have? It is time for protest in the form of action. With cameras on every cell phone, record demands for bribes and use the social media to name and shame. Public outcries for accountability must become the norm. Technology can become the great equaliser. And most significantly, exercise your vote wisely and reject corruption at the top.