Corruption of the silent kind

We readily recognize the myriad manifestations of social behaviour that qualify as “corruption”, and we are forever engaged in nabbing it here, there and everywhere. From marginal corruption cases to major scandals that shake our foundations, we routinely incarcerate the wrong doers — and often those wrongly identified as the doers — but the menace keeps increasing exponentially. Every government has called out corruption of the previous one as the root cause of our malaise, and after the initial cacophony of purging corrupt practices, all have fallen placidly into the same rut of complacency.

The current government arguably is the most strident in flagging corruption as their principal governance issue. It has brought the subject centre-stage, and there is a marked uptick in the number of cases instituted. The once untouchable, high-and-mighty, are in the cross-hairs and there is a general euphoria that corruption will finally be dealt a fatal blow. Google corruption and embezzlement, bribery, money laundering, nepotism and political malfeasance are common adjectives used for the menace. Most are perpetrated by individuals or small groups for financial benefit, using the clout seats of power afford them.

But there is a more sinister and debilitating form that affects a much larger population, and in which culprits are not easily chargeable. Such corruption is endemic and seeps silently into a nation’s bloodstream, upending governments through civil strife, revolutions and bloodbaths.

Consider this: A group in power lays out laws and policies that disenfranchises a vast majority of the population by cordoning and denying it access to national resources: Is the group indulging in corrupt practices? The technically correct will say of course not, they haven’t stolen, embezzled or misappropriated anything: The technically wrong, like myself, say they are  architects of the most insidious corruption; the normal kind gives us some satisfaction when we nab the practitioners and take back some of their unlawful gains. But what relief can we afford those who that have been subtly cheated by denying them adequate tools and skills needed for a decent life?

Over three score and ten years, policy makers have honed governance into an art-form that ensures inequitable resource-capture by the ruling elite.
Unfortunately, neither nature nor society can countenance such horribly skewed distribution, and often violent correcting forces shake us out of our stupor. But the fruits to the elite are too sweet to surrender, and feigned intentions and platitudes are all they offer to silence the poor, the unwashed and the angry asking for a fairer deal. They may lack words to describe their predicament, but are painfully aware of theirsuffering and miserable life because of the acute injustice society has dealt them: Before their voice reaches a new crescendo, the power-elite must take corrective action!

It all starts with education. This is the foundation on which the edifice of any society is erected. If the foundation of a building is horribly uneven, no amount of fancy architecture can ensure structural safety. Similarly, if the educational architecture has gone awry, fancy scotch-tape solutions or glamorous pilot-projects will only exacerbate the elitist model. It is public-sector education where we have gone terribly wrong, and in correcting this lies our salvation. Indeed, equitable and credible education is the panacea to all our ills! We the policy makers know what is ‘good’ education for our children. Our parents knew this and their parents. It’s only when public-sector education is concerned, we are blind-sighted and bleary eyed; for here “others” children study.

This government is focussed on challenging the status-quo and taking corruption head-on. I believe a sharp pivot towards public-sector education will address both issues nicely. Majority of our young human resource sits in public sector educational institutions, and a marginal change here has a huge multiplayer effect. But this will not happen unless we prioritize education by allocating it more resources. Global country-wise average investment in education is over 5% of GDP. In Pakistan it has hovered around 2% since 1947, and needs to be ratcheted-up to 4% of GDP by skimming-off other budget heads. This must get a constitutional cover, as mere policy has proven fruitless in the past.

Inequity in education is the elephant in the room that epitomizes silent corruption. Our salvation lies in placing “Public Education” as the first charge on the national budget. This will be a desirable paradigm shift that drives a stake in the animal’s heart. For once we shall be doing justice to the marginalized. For once we will own “their” children as “ours”: But for fate, they are our children, and not children of a lesser God!


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