By Zaheer Ud Din Qureshi
Anti-corruption mechanisms in Pakistan have consistently failed one after the other. Present set up, National Accountability Bureau is doomed to same fate. Especially after promulgation of National Reconciliation Ordinance it is very much written on the wall. After reconciling with the big fish there seems to be no moral justification to continue catching small fry. It is heart rending to see another anti-corruption mechanism in this country failing to bring any semblance of good governance. Starting with Anti-Corruption Act 1949 we have consistently tried to arrest corruption but have miserably failed every time. An insight into all these attempts for controlling corruption would reveal that anti-corruption efforts have always been attached to political motives. Almost all important anti-corruption literature recommends the presence of exceptional political and managerial will to promote and maintain anti-corruption reform. According to Professor Qua political will includes both a will to exercise self restraint and willingness to take politically risky decisions. Leaders are important for their value as role model. Especially in hero- worshiping cultures like Pakistan’s, people tend to follow individuals more closely than institutions. Ibne- khaldoon liked to see leaders acting as role models by their modest way of life. Conversely most of the leaders in Pakistan have adopted lavish style of living and are widely believed to be corrupt. Successive four governments in Pakistan after 1988 were dismissed on charges of corruption. List of allegation against rulers from every side of the divide is very long and widely perceived to be true. This environment that ‘everyone is corrupt’ is fatal to prospects of any successful anti-corruption effort. Not only the leaders themselves are corrupt but also they are always willing to compromise anti-corruption efforts for political expediency. This lack of political will proves fatal to credibility of any anti-corruption agency. NAB is faced with same credibility crisis. An important manifestation of lack of political will is selectivity in application of law. Two important organizations army and judiciary are not under the purview of the NAB Ordinance. According to a Transparency International Pakistan’s survey in 2006 judiciary is rated as the third most corrupt department in Pakistan. Government may have its reasons to leave these organizations out of ambit of anti- corruption law but from the perspective of anti-corruption it is not defendable.
Associated with the question of political will is the question of political legitimacy.
The occasions for establishment of an anti-corruption agency have important consequences for its performance. Establishment of these organizations follows two patterns. First are those who are established on popular demand. Second are those which are established when new governments come into power. The organizations those are established on the popular demand tend to be more successful. Due to strong sense of ownership these agencies are able to elicit more public support. Public support is a great asset for any agency if it is able to translate it into a meaningful relationship. One prime example of such kind of meaningful relationship is presented by Independent Commission Against Corruption in Hong Kong. This agency was established on the demand of public and over the years it has been successful in building over this confidence through its interactive style of working. Almost all of its major functions are overseen by citizen committees. The institutions which are created by new governments are usually less successful. People tend to associate these kinds of organizations with their creator governments rather than with their agenda. Almost all anti-corruption agencies and laws in Pakistan’s case were created by incumbent governments. Hence from the very outset they have to face a credibility and legitimacy crisis.
Transparency in decision making is the best way to secure public support and exposure of corruption. Pakistan’s administrative culture of secretiveness in decision making is another key reason for failure of these organizations. Pakistan inherited its administrative culture from colonial administration. Pakistan’s governance culture is still embedded in vice-regal tradition of colonial India. The public still is seen as mass of illiterate uncivilized individuals who should be cared but with whom nothing can be shared or who can not give any valuable input. This patriarchal style of administration is manifest in the working patterns of almost all public sector organizations. Many laws for freedom of information are passed recently but exemptions given to these laws virtually ensure that no information of any value is given. Organizational make up of the NAB reflects the same mind set. Secretiveness in decision making breed’s distrust which is detrimental to development of public confidence in the organization. Issue of public support is inevitably linked to issue of political will, legitimacy, administrative culture etc. Commitment of the political leadership and readiness of organization to apply the law impartially is likely to elicit more public support. Nothing undermines the legitimacy of an anti-corruption system more than the perception that persons involved in petty corruption pay a heavy price whereas their leaders who are engaged in far more serious acts of corruption are left alone.
Political will has been the key miss in the all past anti-corruption efforts in Pakistan. This is the most important cause for failures of the NAB. Most of the other factors can be overcome by a willing leadership and supporting public. Interestingly these two important factors are interdependent. Political will helps to build public confidence and a constantly pushing public opinion ensures creation of political will.