Corruption in Pakistan is not limited to politicians
In our society, corruption is commonly understood to be the giving or taking of money to commit an illegal act which furthers the interests of the payer and lines the pockets of the payee. It is also usually implicit that such interests are furthered at the expense of someone else’s or the state’s benefit. The bribe can be conveyed in the form of cash or an object of significant monetary value. Another generally accepted feature of financial corruption is that the recipients of bribes are persons in authority such as government functionaries or office bearers in non-government organisations or a commercial business.
A rudimentary example of the aforementioned brand of corruption in action is the head of procurement in a well-reputed company (a person in authority) granting a lucrative contract to a particular vendor in exchange for a handsome bribe, even though, if gauged purely on merit, another vendor may have deserved it instead. This is our perceived notion of corruption.
However, the definition of corruption in the Oxford dictionary is more over-arching. It defines corruption as:
“(1) dishonest or illegal behaviour, especially of people in authority,
(2) the act or effect of making someone change from moral to immoral standards of behaviour.”
Taking a cue from this, my contention is that financial corruption should really be understood as a by-product of something else; something which is either entirely missing or at the very least, is very weak in a society that allows financial corruption to flourish and become the norm. What then is this missing element which can be branded as the root cause of corruption?
I believe that financial corruption is the direct result of a loss of morality in a society. The corruption of morality occurs when a society is no longer able to distinguish between basic rights and wrongs, thereby freely compromising on fundamental ethical and moral values. A poignant feature of such a society is the existence of hypocritical figureheads that present themselves as being upright and holier-than-thou while they castigate others, usually politicians, government officials and other public figures, as being corrupt, even though they themselves commit immoral, unethical or illegal acts regularly.
Morality can be compromised for several reasons, and the process of a society’s decline may take several years or even generations. However, when it becomes ubiquitous, it becomes a way of life, a societal norm and eventually, it spells anarchy.
To reiterate, financial corruption is a manifestation of the actual disease – moral corruption. In an unscrupulous society, practically everyone, irrespective of their vocation or position or socio-economic status, ends up compromising everyday while making moral judgments, with little to no qualms. In fact, societal operations almost become dependent upon an indulgence in corruption. Ponder on this point for a moment and a myriad of examples will come to mind.
Consider for example, butchers injecting water into meat to increase its weight; builders using sub-standard building materials to increase profit margins, doctors prescribing medicines of a favoured manufacturer, witnesses for rent available outside city courts, tax-dodgers, plagiarising academics, cheating students and hoarders to name a few. The list is undoubtedly endless.
Even upright and law-abiding citizens end up contributing to this vicious cycle when the society as a whole is corrupt, through seemingly innocuous acts, which nevertheless inconvenience others. A seemingly ‘harmless’ act of double-parking a car or wasting water is technically moral corruption. The mere fact that it appears harmless to us exemplifies how our moral compasses have been severely corrupted.
The worst effects of moral corruption are felt at the government level where it manifests itself in various forms such as a lack of adherence to the rule of law, a lack of real will to provide even basic human rights to the people such as food, water, healthcare and education, and above all, the failure to provide timely justice.
History is replete with examples of morally corrupt leaders who accelerated their countries’ slide into convoluted morality due to an ever deepening conviction that they were born to rule even though they were clearly inept at doing so. Such leaders, even if democratically elected, will routinely lie, make false promises of good times coming, increasingly compromise on principles and values, become intolerant of dissent, lose awareness of the issues, pain and suffering of the masses, bend or break the law themselves if needed, develop around themselves a coterie of sycophants and ‘yes-men’, victimise political opponents, and in short do whatever it takes to stay on in power; even carry out genocides, remember Slobodan Milosevic?
In January this year, a team of police officials in Sahiwal shot and killed a man, his wife and their young teenage daughter in front of the couple’s three other children in a stationary car. Cooked-up claims of the passengers being terrorists were soon proven to be outright lies. However, a seemingly open and shut case of the extra-judicial killings took nine months to come to a conclusion, with the concerned officials being set free, on the ridiculous pretext of a ‘lack of evidence’. The government has appealed against the verdict, but it is hard to believe that this this is anything, but a tactic to buy time till the case is eventually forgotten, just like the Model Town massacre. Perhaps it is indicative of how fickle we are as a society that we tend to forget such horrifying events with the passage of time.
Thus what we really must address is the all-pervading prevalence of moral corruption in our society. At a holistic level, this responsibility first lies with the government, and then with our political, religious, spiritual, corporate, and community leaders. At the micro level, the responsibility of building a morally responsible and upright society falls upon every person that possesses the ability to influence – parents, elders, academia, employers, bosses, the media, writers, celebrities, and so on. However, all these potential reformers can only succeed in arresting the decline of morality if above all, they are ready to lead others by personal example. Can this, or will this ever happen? I leave it to you to decide, but the one thing I am sure of is if financial corruption is to be eventually eliminated, moral corruption must first be overcome.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.