Habit of dishonesty
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Throughout his nearly nine years in office, former president Pervez Musharraf spoke of eradicating corruption and loudly proclaimed his own honesty at every available occasion.
The report is now surfacing that hundreds of acres of military land in Dera Ismail Khan were quietly allocated to two key leaders of the MMA, Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the JUI-F and then NWFP chief minister Akram Durrani, as a bribe to ensure the silence of the alliance as Musharraf went back on his word to take off his military uniform by the end of 2004. This is a reminder of the lies he told and the scale of the dishonesty we live with. The report, backed by documentation, of course also exposes, as much as Musharraf who has mentioned a future in politics for himself, the so-called “religious” leaders of the country. Evidently, when it comes to accumulating illegal wealthy, the teachings of religion evaporate as far as these leaders are concerned. This, of course, is not a surprise. Only the most naïve believe these men are truly virtuous. But the fact is that men like the JUI-F chief do manage from time to time to dupe people with all their talk of piety and their defence of terrorists. Sometimes, this false front has dissuaded the country’s inherently conservative media from tracking down allegations regarding their dishonesty. It is time this changed. We need to know the true faces of our politicians, no matter what guise they put on. The accounts of donations made to religious organisations disappearing into the pockets of those who control them should also be investigated.
But while such dishonesty is motivated by greed that overrides principle, and has been a consistent feature of political life in the country, no matter who is in charge, other kinds of dishonesty – or perhaps this should be termed delusion – defy logic. One example was the insistence of the chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), within hours of the Ziarat quake, that matters were in hand and Pakistan was able to handle the localised disaster itself. The chairman’s claim that relief had been delivered triggered an angry response from survivors who said they had received nothing. In similar situations, governments and specialised agencies quite often emphasizes, rather than minimizes, the scale of damage in order to ensure maximum help for victims. Since Pakistani authorities, however great their incompetence, can hardly be blamed for a natural disaster, attempting to cover up its scale and thus potentially denying people speedy assistance makes no sense at all. So deeply rooted is our instinct to hide the truth that local official in some cases resorted to the same process of denial. In many ways this detracted from what was otherwise a fairly well-coordinated and swiftly executed rescue and relief operation, with the main handicap coming in the chronic state of under-development in the stricken districts, with poor road infrastructures and dismal medical facilities even before the quake struck.
We have heard of other cases of dishonesty that have proved still more damaging. False figures for wheat production have been offered up by provinces, and have apparently contributed to shortfalls in supplies of the vital grain. At the national level, inaccurate economic figures have been routinely presented for decades, making assessments of the actual situation almost impossible. Our true literacy figure is unknown, given that official statistics lack credibility and many unofficial quarters present differing estimates as to the actual levels. Even the population rate is disputed, making planning an almost impossible task – and as for issues of the population size of specific provinces, or ethnic populations within them, this is a task so fraught with sensitivities that no attempt at assessment has been possible for years.
Within many departments, the figures on file have been tampered with or adjusted so many times that it is impossible even for the people posted within these offices to say whether or not they are accurate. Many admit that most are probably not a true depiction of the situation on the ground. Even statistics for disease, such as the prevalence of HIV infection within the country, have on occasion been covered up.
The difficulties in punishing corruption in a country where it is so deeply entrenched surfaced during the early days of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) when attempts to probe military and judicial wrongdoing were clamped down on. The restrictions on probing these two spheres of national life of course make it extremely hard to tackle dishonesty.
The fact, though, that, with will and commitment, this can be done has been demonstrated by the former DCO of Jhang, who retired in July this year to join the ADB. The DCO had put in place an elaborate system which to a large extent eliminated corruption in the Revenue Department. The model was to be enforced across Punjab on an initiative of Chief Minister Sharif, but this has yet to happen.
The matter of whether the use of the same methods would result in a reduction in corruption in other districts would be fascinating. But the mechanisms put in place by the former DCO, Zubair K Bhatti, do indicate what can be done even with the honest endeavours of a single individual. His example, importantly, seems also to have inspired at least some bureaucrats to try similar measures. Other instances, of health systems or municipality functions being streamlined in specific areas because of the efforts of single individuals, are also present. They need to be studied and encouraged. But this can happen only if the same levels of commitment exist higher up in the official hierarchy, and from here they are too often missing.
The lack of credibility for officialdom that arises from this dishonesty has an impact on governance. Certainly, no one believes what leaders say. This fuels rumours every now and then. The skepticism of people is logical given they have been duped and fooled so often. Many allegations of dishonesty feature even as far as programmes such as the education campaign launched by the last Punjab set up or even the anti-polio drive are concerned. There have been many accusations of funds provided for these programmes being frittered away. Similar accusations concern relief work that followed the October 2005 earthquake.
At both the petty level and on a far larger national scale, corruption holds up progress. At many levels, dishonesty seems simply to have become a habit. Eradicating it, and thus restoring at least some modicum of trust between the State and it people is essential to establishing any kind of meaningful government in the country. (The News)
The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor. Email: email@example.com