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The Express Tribune

Published Date: Mar 21, 2013

Unless people are empowered, corruption cannot be tackled’ By Waqas Naeem

If
Pakistan needs to fight corruption, it must begin by addressing the gross
income inequality between the country’s rich and poor and the disproportionate
sociopolitical balance of power it has created.

This
was stated by Kaisar Bengali, an economist and former advisor to the chief
minister Sindh, who was speaking at a policy symposium titled “Anti-Corruption
Strategy: A Civil Society Perspective” organised by the Sustainable Development
Policy Institute (SDPI) in Islamabad on Wednesday.

“If
you have a ruling class with enormous power over the people they are ruling,
they will not allow a system where corruption can be identified and tackled,
because the careers of the ruling elites are dependant on this corruption,”
said Bengali.

The
symposium sought to brainstorm practical ideas for strengthening accountability
and placing anti-corruption on the agenda before the upcoming general
elections.

Bengali
said the monopolistic elite in Pakistan had no interest in combating corruption
because all disputes were being settled in the drawing rooms as opposed to the
courts.

“The
arbitrariness is due to inequality – a few hundred land owners and
industrialists control the fate of millions,” Bengali said.

He
explained that the institutionalisation of corruption occurred under Ziaul Haq
where ideas such as “MNA/MPA” schemes and the bank loan default concept in
addition to political corruption were peddled by the regime.

Since
then, corruption has been used as a policy tool, he said.

According
to Transparency International’s (TI) Corruption
Perception Index 2012, Pakistan is ranked 139 out of 176 sampled nations.

Karamat
Ali, executive director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education &
Research (PILER), said the September 2012 fire in Karachi’s Baldia Town garment
factory, which took 258 lives, was an example of how state institutions and
factory owners in Pakistan collude to form an “anti-people” nexus.

Ali
said the factory did not have adequate worker safety measures, and some of its
employees were not even registered with the labour department. He explained
that while a case of intentional murder was filed against the factory owners
under Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code, the PM ordered the withdrawal of
this section from the case owing to complaints from the business community.

“All
these institutions have a stake in maintaining corruption. Unless people are
empowered, how can you combat corruption,” he stated.

Ali
said empowerment would have to come from the rule of law and through workers’
unions that could demand for workers’ rights, especially the majority who
labour for more than 12 hours a day whilst still not getting paid minimum wage.

Robert
Klitgaard, a leading expert on corruption and professor at the Claremont
Graduate University, California, said Pakistan needed a strong institutional
framework and accountability to fight corruption.

Klitgaard
said the nation’s civil society should understand corruption as being a problem
of structures as this would help devise a strategy to eradicate the menace once
a new government comes into power. “I see it as a problem of institutions and
institutional flaws,” he said. “There are not corrupt people, but there are
corrupt institutions.”

Speakers
and participants also raised concern about corruption in the private sector,
which occurs in particular at the behest of multinational corporations
operating in the country.