Oh, so brazen

By Zubeida Mustafa

ON Dec 9, which is designated as International Anti-Corruption Day by the United Nations, newspapers carried a prominent Sindh government advertisement titled ‘Let’s Eradicate Corruption’. It would have convinced few but it did amuse many. The ad claimed that action was being taken against corruption.

The ad admitted that corruption was against the interest of the nation and that bribery was punishable under the law. However, it made a tall demand by stating, “If you have encountered corruption, report immediately.”

Would one want to do that? I still think of my friend Perween Rahman, the head of the OPP, who was shot dead in March 2013, and how she was facilitating the regularisation of goths on the fringe of the city. In normal times too, ordinary citizens feel unprotected. Till today, we do not know who ordered the killers to pull the trigger to eliminate this dedicated social worker.

It is seemingly a brilliant idea to ask the public to report a crime even if it is as minor as a clerk demanding a bribe to move a file. Will the file actually inch forward when the accused is taken to task? As for big crimes, only a fool would hope for state protection if he dares to report it.

It has become increasingly difficult to eliminate corruption.

It would help the Sindh government and its Anti-Corruption Establishment to read the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in October 2003. Pakistan also signed it and ratified it in 2007. It mainly requires states to promote and strengthen measures to prevent, investigate and prosecute those committing corruption. For that the government first has to criminalise corruption comprehensively and strengthen its own public service machinery. Nowhere does the UNCAC require citizens to play this role. It is the government’s responsibility to do that and it has to begin from the top. It is expected to regulate its own public functionaries to ensure that no embezzlement or misappropriation takes place especially of public funds and property. It is the government that has to promote the accountability of its public officials. The Sindh ACE should be doing it.

A fortnight ago, I wrote an article ‘Sordid business’ in which I referred to the US secretary of state’s report on the trafficking in persons which said that according to Pakistan’s police sources over 19,000 young girls had been traded into prostitution in Pakistan in 2019. Sindh had the worst record since not a single person was prosecuted. The TIP report also stated in clear terms that there was complicity between the traffickers and police.

Since I have been pursuing the case of two minor girls for over two years and my quest for justice for the missing girls has taken me to all kinds of police offices and thanas, including the Anti-Violent Crime Cell, I can vouch for the credibility of the US report. But I can produce no evidence against an individual official. I can also add that there is corruption in parts of the judicial system as well where some lawyers thrive on money. The mother has been running to the courts regularly every three weeks for the last two years and her case has still not moved up. With so much being said about such cases is it not incumbent on the provincial government to produce proof and nail down the corrupt?

I can just write from information I gather randomly and confirm by cross-checking from different sources. It is the government’s job to look into the working of its own police and judicial system. Even if we could miraculously bring back our lion — Ardeshir Cowasjee — to roar again I doubt if he could have succeeded today as he did in yesteryears. The slide has been beyond belief.

The fact is that corruption poses a serious threat to the country’s security, economic stability, its institutions and values of democracy and sustainable development, to quote from the UNCAC. Corruption is a bigger threat to our territorial integrity than our foreign policy blunders.

Over time, corruption has proliferated and also grown massively in size. Pakistan’s shocking ranking in Transparency International testifies to the poor perception of the administration’s integrity. That means that bigger sums are involved which increases the spread of corruption. If it begins from the top it seeps down as well for that is how key criminals are protected by their subordinates who also get a share of the loot. If it starts from the bottom it moves upward to create patronage from the top ranks. With so many involved it has become increasingly difficult to eliminate it.

Another factor that has encouraged corruption is inefficiency and ineptitude. Since that is not punishable and is not punished, it creates openings for the corrupt. It needs to be taken more seriously by the government. By creating internal mechanisms to enforce accountability, the rulers can certainly improve the state of affairs.

Source: Dawn