Discourse on corruption: an exercise in futility

Published: November 18, 2011

Asking Nawaz Sharif or President Zardari to declare their assets is not going to rid the country of corruption. PHOTO: PID / FILE

If there’s one thing that captures public imagination in this country, it’s the phenomenon of corruption. The very word, thrown around in public discourse by politicians, talk show hosts and drawing room conversationalists, is as omnipresent as the occurrence of the phenomenon itself.

Although the idea of ‘scourging’ Pakistan of corrupt politicians appeals to our morality-crazed middle class, my argument is that this paradigm is an inherently flawed way of viewing the problem.

Asking Nawaz Sharif or President Zardari to declare their assets is not going to rid the country of corruption – and here is why. Corruption and fraud are not the results of a few individuals who become the face of dishonesty in collective consciousness. Rather, it is very much an institutionalised and historical problem that Pakistan has faced since its very inception.  Corruption, therefore, needs to be contextualised before we all desperately jump on the next bandwagon declaring that it’s going to rid the country of evil by holding ten famous politicians accountable for their misappropriation of public funds.

In case you’re thinking, “well, it became worse when Zardari and his lot came along,” here’s an insightful excerpt from Jinnah’s speech to the constituent assembly in 1947:

“One of the biggest curses from which India is suffering—I do not say that other countries are free from it, but, I think our condition is much worse—is bribery and corruption.”

So here we see that this is in fact, a systemic malaise. Are corrupt politicians a cause for the problems faced by Pakistan or a symptom? I think it’s more a case of the latter. Legal lacunae, for example, facilitate this rampant dishonesty. The Acquisition of Land Act, dating back to 1894 has been modified over the years for (to quote one instance) for allowing the government to purchase land from the poor and sell it off to ‘land mafia’.

When you see that corruption is something that extends from top politicians and military brass to a clerk at the passport office, that’s when you know it’s time to address corruption as a structural issue. Looking up to those who plan to empty a corrupt politician or two’s pockets, therefore, is a flawed and short-term approach.

Heba Islam

Heba Islam

Heba Islam is a sub-editor at the national desk at Express Tribune. She tweets @hebaislam.

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