It is generally claimed, with considerable merit, that corruption is eating into the vitals of the Pakistani society, aggravating economic inequalities and social disharmony in the country, and arresting its economic progress. There is hardly any gathering or discussion, whether in a drawing room, a TV talk show or a political meeting, where one does not come across comments lamenting the spreading cancer of corruption in Pakistan. Whereas these comments generally relate to financial corruption in different sectors of our society, the country also suffers from other manifestations of this social disease, particularly of the intellectual variety in which many of us choose the path of expediency and fail to express our views honestly on issues of national concern for the sake of our personal interests.

Financial corruption, which is generally the most common target of criticism, itself takes many forms. The most visible form is the demand of the government functionaries for illegal gratification for simply doing their job. There are several reasons responsible for such corruption, the most important being the general tendency among our government functionaries from top to bottom to live beyond their legal and known sources of income. Since senior government functionaries themselves are involved in corrupt practices, they are unable to perform effectively their supervisory roles and check corruption among their subordinates. The result is not only a heavily corrupted but also an extremely inefficient public sector.

The problem is aggravated further by political bosses who treat politics as a money making business rather than as a public service. Merit is the least of the consideration in deciding postings and promotions. It is the ability of a government functionary to serve the personal interests of his political boss or the interests of the ruling party which instead becomes the determining factor in such matters. The politicization of the bureaucracy has both corrupted it and lowered its efficiency. The practice of granting extension in service to senior government servants beyond the age of retirement is perhaps the most important factor responsible for the rot of corruption and inefficiency which has set in our public sector. For the sake of a few years’ extension in service, many of these top government functionaries are willing to sell their souls and become active accomplices of their corrupt political bosses. This politics-civil service collusion, besides spreading corruption throughout Pakistan’s body politic, is also responsible for making our public sector largely dysfunctional.

For ridding our public sector of corruption and making it efficient, it is imperative that this politics-civil service collusion is broken and decisions about postings and promotions of civil servants are taken on the basis of merit rather than for serving personal or party interests.

The practice of the grant of extension in service beyond the retirement age should be totally done away with. If considered appropriate, the age of retirement may be raised from 60 to 62 or some other appropriate limit for all government servants. The supervisory role of senior officers for checking corruption and inefficiency should be strengthened. Where necessary, prompt disciplinary action should be taken against corrupt or inefficient officers in accordance with the government’s normal efficiency and discipline rules.

The National Accountability Bureau or NAB was established by the government to check corruption and punish corrupt elements.

Unfortunately, this body, like many others established for the same purpose, has itself been corrupted. The use of this organization for political witch-hunting is just one example of its misuse. There are also widespread allegations against NAB officials themselves of being involved in corruption. There are two options open to the government: either steps should be taken to ensure that NAB itself is rid of corruption and political witch-hunting, or it should be abolished altogether. We should have learnt by now that the mere establishment of new anti-corruption bodies does not necessarily end or even diminish corruption. It simply adds another layer to the existing structure of corruption in the country. It would be a better policy, therefore, to place reliance instead on improving the efficiency of the police and the judiciary in the elimination of corruption as is the case in the rest of the world.

The reform of the police and the judiciary, in any case, is an indispensable condition for the eradication of corruption in our country. The reform programme should aim at establishing the rule of law in Pakistan. Every citizen should be treated in accordance with the law and nobody should be above the law. The working of the police should be made transparent and public friendly. The weak and the strong, and the poor and the rich should be treated equally by the police. The judiciary should provide justice expeditiously at the door-steps of the people. Both the police and the judiciary should establish special cells for expeditiously dealing with corruption and other white collar crimes.

Pakistan has suffered not only from blatant acts of corruption by politicians and government servants, both civil and military, in clear violation of applicable laws and rules. It has also been the victim of “legalized corruption”. Our civil and military officers have excelled in this practice to enrich themselves at the expense of the state and the people at large without ostensibly being guilty of the violation of laws or government rules. The simple procedure to attain these financial gains is to make an unfair law or a rule for the enrichment of civil and military personnel at the expense of the state. The second step is the implementation of such laws and rules in the firm belief that the undue benefits gained through this method are the birth right of the personnel concerned. The grant of agricultural or residential plots on state land or in government run/controlled housing societies to civil and military personnel on nominal prices is a case in point. This practice virtually amounts to robbing the nation and its poor people of their scarce resources for enriching the relatively affluent sections of the society. Yet the officers concerned cannot be accused of corruption since these immoral practices have been given the cover of laws and rules. Nowhere in the world are the civil and military officers allowed to indulge in such immoral schemes of self-enrichment at the expense of the state. An immediate stop must be placed to such practices which immorally transfer hundreds of billions of rupees from the state treasury to the pockets of the senior echelons of our civil and military bureaucracy.

Finally, the country has also suffered enormously from intellectual dishonesty and hypocrisy, which is another form of corruption. Our government servants are guilty of such corruption when they fail to present honestly and objectively their views on important policy issues to their superiors in an attempt to please them or simply for the sake of expediency. In the absence of sound and well-considered advice, the government of the day is unable to frame the right economic and security policies leading to huge economic losses or exposing the country to serious security risks. The training and upbringing of our civil and military officers, therefore, should be such as to encourage them to present their honest views to their superiors on important state policy issues.

Pakistan will remain a victim of the cancer of corruption as long as our top politicians and senior civil and military government servants continue to lead an ostentatious style of life and our police and judiciary remain dysfunctional. The adoption of austerity and the rule of law, therefore, are indispensable conditions for ending corruption in our society.