Feeling the Pulse

All of you are retired bureaucrats. Don’t you think this discussion should have taken place when all of you were in service?

A few retired senior civil and military officials were discussing the main issues facing Pakistan. The choice of topics ranged from population growth, poverty, deteriorating health and education sectors, governance, a dismal economy, political uncertainty, civil-military relations, and the absence of a foreign policy. Finally, they agreed to utilize the occasion to reflect on the ‘real culprit’. Corruption. The idea was to know if ever a nuclear Pakistan could tread the path of progress without addressing and overcoming the malice of corruption.

First: Just before leaving for China, the PM announced that there would be zero tolerance for corruption and incompetence. One of the moot points in Beijing was to roll over the Chinese loan with or without the outstanding interest thereon. I don’t think the PM was asked to explain the practical steps that Islamabad took in eradicating corruption. Instead, Beijing was interested in having a safe, stable and predictable environment for the ‘upgraded’ CPEC and other investment projects. Isn’t it embarrassing that we take loans to pay off loans while knowing full well the whole cycle of corruption? If there was zero tolerance for corruption, why do we find ourselves in such an acute predicament? Zero tolerance means what?

Second: If I correctly remember Sir, you remained the Finance Secretary for over four years. During your tenure, the PM must have gone to China at least once with the same objectives. Did you include in the PM’s brief the point you are making now? You wouldn’t have survived in the Ministry for an hour if you did. Hence, my first question is: whom should we blame?

First: During my time in the Finance Division …….

Third: Wait a minute. I don’t think we are here to write ACRs on any individual’s annual personal performance. It would be like opening a Pandora’s box. As George Eliot said: “the responsibility of tolerance lies with those who have the wider vision” – us bureaucrats would always have a myopic view of governance and statehood. Our careers would revolve around having a choice posting, a few outstanding reports and to build a house for the family. Did you have even the time to think beyond the four walls of your office? Indeed, the political leadership is supposed to have that ‘wider vision’, an element that is totally missing from the scene.

Voice: Unfortunately, those who had that vision were either eliminated or sidelined. Let’s focus on the subject, shall we?

Fourth: In a country where one of the most corrupt sectors happens to be the anti-corruption department, what could you expect from others? In a country where a Governor proudly tells the story of his rise to the position only through corrupt means and another politician seeks his ‘share’ in corruption, do you need any proof to substantiate the point? All of us know how things move or don’t move unless you have ‘something’ to offer to the concerned officials. Society has become corrupt to the core. The irony? All of us claim that we are not corrupt, and ‘hell is other people.’ Ironically, all of us believe that corruption is bad and condemn it in all its manifestations.

Fifth: You are right. A few days ago, a BS-21 police officer, working as Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE), was removed from his post as he ‘refused to be part of’ a corrupt system that was being run by a ‘private person’. I wish the sacked officer also told us how he got that position and more importantly, why he called a spade a spade only after his removal from the post.

Sixth: I think we should accept certain facts first. Corruption is widespread and systematic. It is not a new phenomenon. The country has suffered from pervasive corruption since its independence. According to Transparency International, Pakistan ranks at 133 out of 180 countries of the world. We all know that Pakistan has a National Anti-Corruption Strategy. Don’t we? In 2002, Islamabad admitted that ‘in the last fifty-five years we have seen an exponential upsurge in the scourge of corruption with perhaps the steepest rise coming in the period 1985-1999. The result of such widespread corruption has been a loss of legitimacy of state institutions.’

Seventh: No democratically elected Prime Minister has ever completed a full five-year term in Pakistan’s 75-year history. Any idea why? Admit it, friends, you don’t have the courage to speak the truth even after retirement. God, I am enjoying this.

Eighth: Okay, let’s talk about corruption in politics and see how it inflicts immeasurable harm to the state’s progress. Do we realize that perceptions of corruption in Pakistan hit an all-time high in 2022, preceding a former PM’s arrest? In 2022, as many as thirty-two percent of Pakistani firms identified corruption as a major business constraint. Even access to justice is seriously undermined by corruption.

Ninth: How about bureaucracy, Sir? I think this area needs our most attention. At last, the government has acknowledged the inefficiency and incompetence of bureaucracy. As they lack in project planning and execution, a decision has been taken to hire foreign consultancy firms to strengthen the hands of the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC). In other words, Pakistani bureaucrats are being replaced by foreigners to work for the government. Any idea what kind of corruption would be in play in the hiring mechanism?

Voice: All of you are retired bureaucrats. Don’t you think this discussion should have taken place when all of you were in service? Do you realize that just because of your vociferously compliant behavior, millions of people are now grappling with fulfilling basic needs? You are right. Corruption is the main culprit. The question is: what did you do about it when you had the power to make a difference? It’s too late now. With worsening economic conditions, the world has started viewing your country as a laughingstock. Do not talk about reviving the country’s economy. Instead of moving around peripheries, hit the center, Sir. The economy may increase tenfold; no progress could be achieved by a nuclear Pakistan unless you have honest leaders and upright administrators. Full stop.

Najm us Saqib
The writer is a former Ambassador of Pakistan and author of eight books in three languages. He can be reached at najmussaqib

The writer is a former Ambassador of Pakistan and author of eight books in three languages. He can be reached at najmussaqib1960@msn.com.

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt