Pakistan slipping on graft index is opportunity opposition will seize
For a government that came into power on an anti-corruption agenda, the latest Transparency International report which shows Pakistan hitting a five-year low on the graft perception index, is a huge political setback. It’s not that Pakistan has ever been on a higher rung of the index, but its fall in rankings provides the opposition with a golden issue to hit back at the government.
Pakistan now ranks 120 out of 180 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), slipping by three spots from the previous year's ranking despite increased anti-corruption efforts. Pakistan is assigned a score of 32, a point lower than its score of 33 on the previous year index and well below the global average of 43. The CPI ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, drawing on 13 expert assessments and surveys of business executives.
Predictably, the government has rejected the report as flawed, but it finds it hard to defend its own performance. Prime Minister Imran Khan who was swept into power some 18 months ago, has launched an anti-graft drive. Almost all major opposition leaders are either in prison or have been indicted on graft charges.
Surely, corruption is a major problem that has sapped economic and social progress in the country, but it is not easy or possible to eliminate such a deeply entrenched problem by targeting opposition figures.
As Patricia Moreira, Managing Director of Transparency International pointed out, to end corruption, it is important to tackle the relationship between politics and big money.
Notwithstanding Khan’s claims of fighting graft, there are allegations of vested interests influencing his government’s policies. Another factor is his government’s failure to provide good governance. A weak and fractious government cannot enforce the rule of law.
Though there may not have been any major financial scandals involving top party leaders, corruption at the lower level is reported to have increased in Pakistan largely because of governance failure. This lack of real progress against corruption will have negative effects on Khan’s support base.
Interestingly, the Transparency International report has praised the performance of the country’s primary anti-graft body, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), which has been squarely in the eye of the storm at home. While opposition leaders accuse the NAB of selective accountability, the government has also expressed its unhappiness with its over-stretch.
It may be true that Khan’s government cannot be entirely blamed for the slippage in the graft index, but the report could not have come at a worse time-- when it is facing perhaps the worst crisis since it came to power.
Though it is true that many politicians may have been involved in wrongdoing, but the way in which their cases have been pursued against a select few has made NAB’s actions open to criticism. In fact, there is a need to revisit all NAB laws that violate basic norms of justice, making the body controversial.
Although NAB is supposed to be an autonomous body, in effect it has never been so. There is now a move to curtail its powers. Its sweeping authority has rendered it unaccountable.
It may be true that Khan’s government cannot be entirely blamed for the slippage in the graft index, but the report could not have come at a worse time-- when it is facing perhaps the worst crisis since it came to power. Not only have the allied parties come out publicly with their dissent, the divisions within the PTI are now also noticeable.
While in opposition, Khan had blamed corrupt politicians, mafias, and oligarchies for the country’s ills, but he is using the same mantra to cover up his government’s ineptitude. His populist slogans had earlier worked because people badly wanted a change. But this may well go against a populist government failing to reverse the situation. Growing public discontent has raised questions about the government’s stability.
The Khan government is dependent on disparate allies and the powerful security establishment. One of the PTI government’s biggest failures has been its inflexible approach, despite being a coalition government. And because of its stubbornness, the PTI has allowed the opposition greater space.
Given the current crisis of governance and ineptitude, the emerging cracks in the coalition are not surprising. Sensing that the government is now on a weak footing, the allies have raised the stakes and are demanding a larger share in the pie. The situation in Punjab is particularly precarious with the coalition government surviving on a razor-thin majority.
True to form, Imran Khan is not willing to see the ominous signs on the political horizon: that the ongoing political crisis has exposed the fault lines in a fragile coalition. The Transparency International Report may further erode the government’s credibility. Now, growing public frustration with its failures to address problems faced by the people has made the government extremely vulnerable.
– Zahid Hussain is an award-winning journalist and author. He is a former scholar at Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholar, USA, and a visiting fellow at Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, and at the Stimson Center in Washington DC. He is author of Frontline Pakistan: The struggle with militant Islam (Columbia university press) and The Scorpion’s tail: The relentless rise of Islamic militants in Pakistan (Simon and Schuster, NY). Frontline Pakistan was the book of the year (2007) by the WSJ.