Grappling with pervasive corruption

Speaking at a meeting with media persons in Karachi on Friday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani opined that corruption has reduced during the last three years, primarily due to a proactive media, aggressive accountability by the National Assembly’s Pubic Accounts Committee (PAC) and judicial activism.The assertions sound rather ironical considering that he said this in Karachi on the day his party was observing a province-wide strike to protest the removal of NAB Chairman on the apex court’s orders. Nonetheless, one cannot agree more with his line of reasoning. The truth of the matter is that the twin problems of corruption and nepotism have plagued this country right from the beginning. Both civil and military rulers plundered the national resources for personal enrichment as well as to buy political loyalties. It is only the political class though which gets a bad name for it.

As Gilani pointed out General Ayub Khan issued the infamous Elected Bodies Disqualification Order (EBDO) to sideline mainstream politicians in order to legitimise his illegal rule for a decade. General Ziaul Haq, the most brutal military dictator this country has seen, used a criminal case to physically eliminate a popularly elected prime minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. When a frail democracy was restored after Zia’s own elimination in mysterious circumstances, both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who alternated in power for two terms each, were twice removed by the establishment backed presidents on corruption charges.The next military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, also used old corruption cases to keep Benazir Bhutto from returning home and participating in the political process. Stories are galore of all these generals’ involvement in corruption scandals, both for personal aggrandisement and rewarding compliant politicians.

Corruption and nepotism have thrived under democratic dispensations as well as long spells of military rule. Politicians resorted to patronage to ensure greater delectability, and usurpers to win political allegiance they needed to lend credibility to their illegal political constructs. Little wonder that corruption is endemic at every level, from top to bottom.Things are beginning to change for the better because of a newly-independent and assertive judiciary, a democratically elected Parliament, and greater media freedom, especially private television channels. While Parliament and the judiciary have been taking increasingly proactive stance on various corruption cases, the media have been complementing their efforts by keeping the public informed through uncompromising reporting and hosting debate and discussion on the issues at hand.

It is an oddity of sorts that General Musharraf’s regime is associated with the advent of private television channels, though; he let it happen because at the time he saw no direct threat to his rule. He tried to muzzle the more outspoken channels on the first hints of trouble. It was too late by then for him to undo what had been done.The three elements – elected parliament, independent judiciary, and free media -are the best bet to counter the twin menace of corruption and nepotism pervading this society. Hopefully, the prime minister, who correctly identified them in his media talk as being responsible for curbing corruption, as well as his party leadership, will also show respect for the decisions of the two other branches of the state, and tolerance for the Fourth Estate’s watchdog role – Brecorder