Believing corruption to be the only difference between the developed and developing countries, Prime Minister Imran Khan renewed his resolve to fight this menace while addressing a special ceremony held in Islamabad last week to review the first 100 days performance of the PTI government. “Pakistan has no future until the menace of corruption is seriously tackled”, he just warned. During his recent foreign trips, PM Imran Khan has also shown a keen interest in adopting the so-called Chinese as well as Malaysian anti-corruption models for Pakistan. No doubt, both countries have succeeded in effectively containing corruption through a proactive anti-corruption strategy. But these ‘models’ are unlikely to succeed in achieving the desired objectives in Pakistan. In fact, the nature and intensity of corruption vary from country to country. Therefore, each country is generally required to adopt a particular anti-corruption strategy keeping in view its unique domestic environment and other corruption-related challenges. However, in order to make any specific anti-corruption strategy work and deliver in any country, there are always required a strong will and resolution to perform this daunting task.

Combating corruption has been nobody’s cup of tea in Pakistan. Consequently, we could neither evolve an effective anti-corruption regime nor any vibrant anti-graft institutions in the country. In my previous two columns on this subject, I have recommended to adopt a comprehensive, inclusive and multipronged anti-corruption strategy involving a number of investigative, anti-graft, audit and regulatory bodies. However, I by no means intended to undermine the significance and relevance of certain specific and specialized anti-graft bodies at the federal and provincial levels in the country. Noticeably, National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the country’s prime anti-graft body, has badly failed in eliminating corruption from Pakistan owing to some inherent flaws in the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999. Therefore, we now need to introduce another effective and holistic anti-graft legislation to curb pervasive and persistent corruption in Pakistan.

The proposed anti-corruption legislation should focus on awarding stringent and deterrent punishment to individuals involved in corruption or corrupt practices rather allowing them to go scot-free by ‘subscribing’ to ‘packages’ like Plea Bargain and Voluntary Return offered by the NAO. Section 25 of the NAO empowers Chairman NAB to release, before or after the commencement of a trial, any accused person if he returns the assets or gains acquired through corruption and corrupt practices. This practice has somehow reduced our ‘premier’ anti-graft body to mere an assets recovery agency. At the same time, it just makes a mockery of the very term ‘accountability’ as well as the NAB’s so-called zero tolerance policy against corruption.

‘Operant Conditioning’ is one of the fundamental concepts in Behavioural Psychology. Significantly influenced by the well-known ‘law of effect, this thesis establishes a causal relationship between the behaviour and its consequences. It maintains that the consequences of a particular behaviour determine whether such behaviour is likely to be repeated or not in future. The positive consequences reinforce the behaviour and negative consequences simply lead to its extinction. Thus rewards and punishments play a fundamental role in modifying human behaviour. Similarly, the deterrence theory of punishment also underlines the importance of punitive actions to effectively combat crimes in any society. It assumes that a person obeys the law only because he is afraid of getting caught and be punished. The fear of punishment deters not only individuals from repeating a crime but also others from committing similar crimes. So, we also need more stringent laws and stricter enforcement to contain ever-rising corruption in Pakistan.

The entire anti-corruption manoeuvring of PTI government is currently centred on repatriating the ‘plundered’ and ‘looted’ money to Pakistan. For this specific purpose, an Assets Recovery Unit (ARU) has been set up by the federal government. Headed by the Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Accountability, this multi-agency body is empowered to get any kind of information from any federal or provincial department. It is indeed a good thing that the incumbent PTI government is seriously trying to retrieve and repatriate hidden offshore assets to the country. However, these measures can’t absolve PTI of its moral and legal responsibility of evolving and enforcing a stringent accountability regime in the country as promised by it. This repatriation of assets move is hardly a substitute for a rigorous anti-corruption drive.

Section 9 of the NAO says that a person is said to commit the offence of corruption and corrupt practices if he or any of his dependents owns or possesses any assets or other pecuniary resources disproportionate to his known sources of income. This is an important provision of the NAO which has been very useful and helpful to nab and convict a public office holder involved in corrupt and dishonest practices. Therefore, this provision should be an integral part of any further accountability regime in the country. In order to detect corruption on the basis of owning or possessing ‘assets beyond means’, Pakistan also needs to properly introduce and adopt the very system of Income and Assets Declaration (IAD). This system essentially requires individuals to formally and precisely declare their income and assets before an appropriate legal agency of the state. The public officials from the three branches of government- executive, legislature, and judiciary- are made to duly declare the income and assets of their own, their spouses and dependent children. Moreover, there is also an independent monitoring agency to verify, scrutinise and investigate the IAD statements made by any public officials. The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) has also recognised the IAD system as an important legal instrument to combat corruption worldwide. At present, a large number of countries like United States, UK, Canada, Australia, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, New Zealand, Thailand, India, Estonia, Latvia and Romania are actively following the IAD system in one way or the other to ensure public accountability. Pakistan also direly needs to introduce an efficient IAD regime to ensure accountability and transparency in public sector institutions.

The proposed anti-corruption enactment should ensure an efficient anti-graft body which must be independent and accountable at the same time. The executive branch of the government should exclusively nominate and appoint the head of this proposed anti-graft body rather than adopting a complex procedure whereby the President appoints the Chairman NAB after ‘consulting’ the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition as provided by the NAO. The head of this proposed anti-graft body should enjoy a secured tenure. This body can be made answerable for its performance to a parliamentary committee. At the same time, the judiciary should exercise some control and checks on its operations. This judicial oversight would prevent its officials from misusing and abusing their authority. Trial courts should also be allowed to grant a bail to an accused person besides not granting investigating officers a remand of the accused for an extended period of as many as 90 days.

Anti-money laundering (AML) is considered to be another important tool to contain corruption though an anti-graft body is not primarily responsible for combating money laundering. Despite promulgating the Anti-money Laundering Act in 2010, we have not been so serious about effectively combating money laundering in the country. Financial Monitoring Unit (FMU), a national financial watchdog established under this law, is supposed to actively combat money laundering and terror financing primarily by evaluating the Suspicious Transaction Reports (STR) made by certain financial and non-financial institutions in Pakistan. However, so far, FMU has not delivered anything substantial. Regrettably, Pakistan has yet also not evolved any efficient AML regime despite the fact it has been formally placed on a grey list by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on account of some “strategic deficiencies” in its anti-money laundering and terror financing regime. Reportedly, the federal government now intends to introduce new legislation to seriously combat money laundering in Pakistan. Controlling the illegal money transfer transactions like Hawala and Hundi will continue to the major challenge for any future AML regime too. Therefore, this illegal practice should effectively be regulated if not stopped altogether. An efficient AML regime can definitely help combat corruption in Pakistan. Naturally, corruption will be discouraged if individuals find it difficult to launder their dirty or ill-gotten money.

Despite pervasive corruption in Pakistan, the conviction rate in corruption cases has been disappointingly low owing to non-existent of an efficient criminal justice system. Criminal courts and prosecutors are the complimentary components of the criminal justice system. Therefore, besides the anti-graft agencies, we will also have to focus on improving the capacity building of the public prosecutors and criminal courts. And without doing this, no accountability regime will adequately deliver in Pakistan. Eliminating corruption from the country has been essentially an important part of the PTI’s political discourse since its inception. It was also an important point of its last election manifesto as well as 100-day plan. Therefore, it is now incumbent upon the PTI government to evolve and adopt a proactive and holistic anti-corruption regime to rid Pakistan of rampant corruption.



The writer is a lawyer and columnist based in Lahore.