Avoidable fuss?

Corruption hurts everyone, and it harms the poor the most. Corruption is both a cause of poverty and a barrier to overcoming it. This menace undermines, among other things, democracy, merit and the rule of law. PPP ministers and spokespersons are up in arms against Transparency International, both on the media as well as in the Sindh Assembly, ever since the annual corruption index (CPI) was released on October 16 by the Berlin-based international organisation.The CPI lists, in descending order, countries according to the perceived degrees of graft, based on 13 surveys of experts and business people. One can always question the methodology, for precise working can vary from country to country and time to time, as it has changed over time and year-on-year comparisons (ie group rankings) can be misleading.The CPI does indicate the general level of corruption, but does not clearly indicate which aspects of corruption are more serious or how to fight it. Unfortunately, the uproar that erupts after the CPI rankings are issued or when a local perception survey is released overshadows the good work undertaken at the local or international level by the TI Chapters and casts them in a bad light.TI (Pakistan) played a key role in Public Procurement Reforms Act 2002’s drafting and under which a more transparent procedure has been evolved. It may not be perfect but the PPRA certainly provides a mechanism wherein bidders know beforehand the criteria and sub-criteria marks. They are provided a scorecard on a web after technical evaluation of the bids. They have an opportunity to offer their critique for reevaluation. And, only after scoring over 75 percent marks and being declared responsive – are the financial bids provided by responsive bidders in a sealed envelope, separately, opened in their presence. And financial offers of non-responsive bidders are returned to them unsealed. PPRA while providing a time line for speedy decision-making gives no room for post-tender negotiations, disallows extension of offer expiry dates, as well as matching or under-cutting post-tender by other contenders. All these pre-PPRA windows allowed for corrupt practices in procurement of goods and services or appointment of consultants.

Some TI chapters around the world also run legal advice centres to help victims of corruption. The National Accountability Bureau under the previous government has benefited from TI (Pakistan) input and in the present dispensation both the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly, as well as the superior judiciary has taken into account TI (Pakistan) pointers in a number of cases. All the laudable work undertaken by TI (Pakistan) is now overshadowed by the annual ranking index scorecard. TI (Pakistan) would fare much better in achieving the objective of reduction in corruption if it could do away with the misleading index. To create a country free of corruption, its causes and consequences must be understood.There is a growing perception that TI is not analysing many aspects of corruption, with a lot of homework, with a view to searching for practical solutions to combat it. The overlying objective need not be to compare Pakistan with its regional neighbours or the PPP – coalition with a PML-led government. The primary aim of Transparency International is to guide in evolving mechanisms and processes with minimum discretion and free from favouritism which fall under “Good Practice”. TI must focus on challenging the inevitability of corruption, and offering hope to its victims. It is also required to work out strategies aimed at successfully lobbying governments to implement anti-corruption reforms in letter and in spirit – Brecorder