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Crisis of corruption

A footage released by the Sunday Mirror divulged shocking details of a Pakistan Customs official for seeking a 10 British pound bribe for not checking the bags of a passenger bound for London.

Even though the deal didn’t come to much when the passenger, a Birmingham businessman, refused to pay any bribe he filmed a three-minute video recording the exchange of conversation between the official and the passenger. The released footage has created a stir internationally and prompted swift action domestically.

Phillip Baum, editor of Aviation Security Magazine has reportedly termed this incident “shocking and worrisome” because it posed a security risk when a uniformed border official was found negligent of his prime duty of checking passengers’ luggage and was happy to instead take a bribe. Baum called for immediate action and urgent inquiry by the Pakistani authorities.

The noose was tightened and the entire shift of customs officers on duty at the airport was suspended. The interior minister ordered immediate arrest of the accused customs official filmed for demanding a bribe. It was invariably a quick response firstly because there was sufficient evidence to implicate the official, and secondly because there was glaring willingness to send a message that bribery at such sensitive places like international borders will not be tolerated any more.

While responding to the international furore instantly we may appreciate the state machinery in the Herculean task they performed by apprehending an official who demanded a bribe of a little more than Rs1000 – not even enough to buy him decent clothing. We should also be concerned for almost no action taken against the scores of corrupt officials involved in bungling millions of rupees that have made them owners of luxury homes and bloated assets overnight. Is this not equally, if not more, a cause of action?

Punishing one bad fish in an ocean of corruption is not enough. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are scores of government officials engaged in coercion or illegal favours in exchange of bribery; and they need to be checked. The practice of extracting a ‘fee’ for routine administrative jobs in return for speeding up work in the notoriously slow government institutions is a form of bribery that goes unnoticed.

There is virtually no sector in the country that is untouched by corruption today. No audit and tax matter can be finalised without a bribe, no FIR registered without a bribe, no land record obtained without a bribe, no investigation completed without a bribe. There is this deadly notion implanted in the mind of a government official that he has a price that people must pay. The official suspended in the airport case was no exception.

A close look at the problem suggests that it has never been addressed seriously before. Years of neglect has hardened it into a dominant culture and it has become so firmly embedded and accepted as part of the system that in one sense it ceases to become corruption and merely becomes a different set of norms that define the way the state’s bureaucracy operates.

Further dissection reveals that resistance to bribery in Pakistan has a long and largely futile history. There has been no systematic effort to stamp it out. Even condemnation is missing in most of the cases, and there is absence of any serious punishment due to weak anti-corruption laws or the inability of government machinery to implement such laws.

Just as corrupt leaders have never been ousted, similarly corrupt officials are never dismissed from service or jailed in Pakistan. This has strengthened the confidence of rent-seekers who justify bribery using the excuse that it actually increases efficiency in government organisations. To their happiness this corruption often goes unchecked. Here we should be more concerned about what this says about our general apathy towards the level of tolerance of corruption the state has.

According to Luiz Felipe d’Avila of the Centre for Public Leadership, corruption is not a moral failure but a cause of tangible damage. The cost of corruption to the economy is invariably high. Many studies suggest that corruption costs 1-2 percent of GDP every year, particularly in developing economies. Corruption is also the main obstacle to business by local and foreign investors. When poor people are condemned to pay bribes for basic services such as water supply, gas and electricity connections, jobs and pensions they become even poorer and their quality of life deteriorates. These are worrisome revelations that need to be addressed.

The Estacode which is the civil establishment code for conduct, efficiency and discipline of government servants makes it the responsibility of the head of a department to exercise utmost vigilance, analyse the cause, and trace the source wherever corruption occurs. It says that corruption prevails in a department if its head is corrupt and/or wilfully blind to corruption, or so inefficient that he is unable to control it. So failure to curb corruption would be a reflection of their own efficiency.

So if officers are watchful of their subordinates, denounce acts of bribery, and punish bribe seekers by taking rightful action under the law instances of corruption would be curbed to a great extent. Whistle-blowers must be encouraged and accommodated within the purview of the law. Inaction is in fact complicity and a huge disservice to the nation.

The writer holds an LLM degree ininternational economic law from the

University of Warwick.

Email: beelam_ramzan@yahoo.com

Beelam Ramzan, "Crisis of corruption," The News. 2015-03-27.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social issues , Social system , Social values , Corruption-Pakistan , Government institutions , Customs official , Corrupt officials , Pakistan