Dr. Vaqar Ahmed lists ways in which ordinary citizens can help counter corruption in the country.
This piece is not about another bullet point agenda that directs our governments to take action against corruption. In fact we start with the assumption that federal and provincial governments and their executive branches know very well how to curb corrupt behaviours – yet they don’t do so.
A new stream of discourse argues the need for civil society to exert organized pressure in a manner that forces the elected representatives and their implementing arm (civil service) to remain within bounds. This articleprovides ways in which civil society can create an impact.
“Innovative ideas such as www.ipaidbribe.pk/ which lets you post your daily life experience with anyone forcing you to pay irregular payments towards facilitating your right.”
Let us start with innovative ideas such as www.ipaidbribe.pk which lets you post your daily life experience with anyone forcing you to pay irregular payments towards facilitating your right. Such forums are trying hard to uncover the market price of corruption and bring this distortion into the limelight through print and electronic media. It was this website where people first started exchanging views about how regional passport offices in Pakistan were now demanding bribes in order to facilitate an early retrieval of passport booklets. Having such forums in fact allows for documenting what works and what does not when dealing with corruption.
Talking of the public sector brings us to another important role that civil society ought to play. We need to demand that proceedings of public sector (ministries, government departments and public sector enterprises) be audited by the Auditor General’s office and should be presented first to the parliament and then to the general public without any time lag. Based on these proceedings and findings civil society can start evaluating the government’s performance. This will also allow independent think tanks in the country to monitor corruption at fairly frequent intervals.
Malpractices in procurement of services or even recruitment of public officials need to be checked on an urgent basis. The pressures on federal and provincial public service commissions are all very well known. There are vast numbers of positions in the public sector in which public service commissions are not even in the loop. Such irregular appointments are not limited to adhoc selections but also permanent positions many of which are in the public sector corporations which are bleeding the national exchequer. The losses of public sector enterprises crossed PKR 1500 billion in the past 2 years. These enterprises include Pepco, Pakistan Railways, Pakistan International Airlines, Pakistan Steel Mills, Utility Stores Corporation, Trading Corporation of Pakistan, Pakistan Agricultural Storage & Supplies Corporation as well as the National Highway Authority. While the focus on public administration is important we should not neglect corporate governance in the public sector.
One should also identify the arbitrariness in the system. This arbitrariness helps to institutionalize corruption across the government machinery. For example the regime of allotment of government land, plots and other entitlements to public sector employees is a system that is rarely documented and evaluated by external auditors. When officials block prime commercial land for their own entitlements business incentives are erased. Pakistan’s national accountability framework is driven by National Accountability Bureau, Federal Investigation Authority and Anti-corruption departments in the provinces. However emphasis is entirely on enforcement and very little on prevention.
Another important step in organizing civil society is to strengthen consumer rights groups. There are substantial inequalities of incomes, consumptions and asset holding in the country which can be curtailed through ensuring transparency and fairness in goods and labour markets. The macro level institutions such as Competition Commission of Pakistan (and other regulatory bodies) and micro level institutions such as price committees need to be: a) strengthened in capacity, b) safeguarded from human interference and c) allowed empowerment with accountability. Civil society can play a role in demanding each of these three measures.
Some rent-seeking entrepreneurs help strengthen a system where arbitrariness blossoms. This happens at the cost of genuine investors for whom the demand for bribe awaits at every step of entry, operation or exit. Many such members of the business community form the core of our tax paying brass. However with no tax payers’ rights cell in the country, our revenue departments at federal and provincial levels are not held accountable for the revenue lost due to corrupt practices of tax officials. The example of telecommunications sector in Pakistan is a classic example of busting sector-wide corruption. Privatization and deregulation in the telecommunications sector took the discretionary powers away from the government, introduced competition in this sector and today we see that the same landline connection that used to take decades to reach the applicants house has been stumped by a mobile phone connection available even with people who live below the poverty line in Pakistan.
“The civil society also has an opportunity to use independent media in helping to curtail corruption. For this to happen investigative journalism needs to be promoted.”
The civil society also has an opportunity to use independent media in helping to curtail corruption. For this to happen investigative journalism needs to be promoted. The civil society institutions can take a lead in developing this cadre and then providing research assistance to media entities. We already see the encouraging example of Pakistan Social Accountability Network (PSAN) whose members devise actions towards demand-side and community-based accountability mechanisms in order to improve service delivery at the grass roots levels.
Finally the civil society needs to be assertive and ensure follow up with accountability departments in the country so that examples can be established. The chain smoker very well knows that this practice is injurious for health, yet many continue to smoke. So awareness alone is not enough and tough precedents should be set and examples must be established.
This article was originally published at: The Friday Times
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.