The history of corruption in government departments is as old as these departments. According to a report by the International Monetary Fund in 2016, corruption accounted for approximately 2 percent of the world’s GDP, around $2.6 trillion.
In public sector, the World Bank defines corruption as the misuse of public office for private gain. It encompasses a wide range of illicit activities, such as bribery, embezzlement, nepotism, fraud and extortion. Corruption can be further categorised based on various aspects and perspectives. It can involve government contracts, licences and the manipulation of scarce resources.
Institutional corruption goes beyond the actions of individual actors and involves corrupt practices, norms and systems that become embedded in the structure and culture of an institution.
Corruption is hard to measure accurately due to its secretive and illicit nature. Surveys and perception-based indicators are commonly used by organisations like the Transparency International. Their Corruption Perception Index ranks 180 countries on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (clean/ corruption-free) based on perceptions of experts and businesses.
The reason for using perception-based indicators is straightforward; it is a lot easier to ask someone’s perceptions of corruption than to measure it directly. According to the latest CPI, published in 2022, Pakistan is ranked 140th with a score of 27. This signifies an alarming trend of increasing perception of corruption in the country since 2018.
In some cases, alternative methods can be used to analyse corruption. One such method involves comparing the official prices and the market prices and using the disparity as an indicator of price manipulation. Hsieh and Moretti (2006) utilised this method to investigate corruption in the United Nations-administered Iraqi oil-for-food programme. However, the method does have its limitations. It primarily addresses corruption related to pricing and effective service delivery and ignores other aspects of corruption such as embezzlement and nepotism.
When it got independence from the British rule in 1947, Pakistan inherited a governance system that had been established during the colonial era. The focus of the governance system at that time was to maintain control over the populace and maximise extortion. Promoting transparency and accountability was not an objective. There is a popular perception that the performance and efficiency of most state institutions has not improved much.
As highlighted by North (1992), institutions tend to persist over time; they do not erode rapidly or transform. This observation aligns with the situation we are witnessing. Despite efforts for change, the deep-rooted institutional framework continues to shape the governance system.
The governance systems in developed countries provide quality services and justice to the public, while maintaining transparency. However, this is not the case in Pakistan, where the quality and prompt access to services depend on how rich or influential one is.
This state of affairs stems from a lack of accountability. It was not needed when the institutions were first set in place but has been of utmost importance after the transition.
The governance system in developed countries provides quality services and justice to the public, while maintaining transparency. This is not the case in Pakistan where access to services depends on how rich or influential one is.
Public sector accountability entails a mechanism by which public officials and institutions are held responsible for their actions, decisions and outcomes. Many people believe that the main reasons for corruption are ineffective institutions, delayed decisions in corruption cases and exploitation of state resources by government officials for personal gain.
In many developed countries, providing for basic needs like education, health, transport and housing is a responsibility of the government. In our country these sectors are dominated by private businesses. It has been alleged that the government departments related to these sectors do not provide the best services to allow the relevant businesses to do well. This is causing several types of corruption in the country.
There is clearly no blanket solution to curb all forms of corruption in Pakistan. Various targeted policies and practices are needed to address different facets of corruption.
An effective policy to promote accountability in public offices is to integrate it with social media transparency and introduce performance-based incentives. To this end the significant increase in online presence of ordinary people in Pakistan after the pandemic can be leveraged to combat corruption.
To achieve this, it should be obligatory for all government departments to maintain social media presence. Through these platforms, the departments can educate the public about their role in the society and highlight their activities and progress. This can address the problem of information asymmetry that creates opportunities for corruption.
The National Accountability Bureau and the Anti-Corruption Departments have been unable to control this problem. An independent organisation should be established to monitor the work of government departments and investigate any allegations against officials.
Although the implementation of such a policy may initially increase the government expenditure it is hoped that the resulting deadweight loss will be significantly less than that caused by corruption.
In the short term, performance-based incentives can also have a role in aligning private interests with the goal of improved service delivery. The combination of mandatory social media presence, independent monitoring organisations and performance-based incentives can help promote transparency, accountability and a more efficient public sector.
In the long run, we need to change our education system to prevent all kinds of social problems, including corruption and unprofessional conduct.
We must also raise awareness about the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017, which gave the right to a common citizen to get information related to public departments or public funds spent on a development project. This can also improve the current situation of government institutions.
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