Perception of Corruption

Spearhead Analysis – 26.02.2019

By Farrukh Karamat
Senior Research Coordinator, Spearhead Research

“Corruption is much more likely to flourish where democratic foundations are weak and, ……………………., where undemocratic and populist politicians can use it to their advantage.” [Delia Ferreira Rubio – Chair, Transparency International]

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has been clamouring for the elimination of corruption in Pakistan and this was their main pre-election battle-cry against the PML-N led government. After coming into power the PTI leadership and the Prime Minister have continued with the same slogan and have categorically stated that they will not spare the corrupt. The message has been repeated on National and International forums severely tarnishing the image of the country by portraying a society mired in corruption and corrupt practices. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has adopted an aggressive stance against corruption and a number of high-profile people are under investigation or behind bars. Given the judicial process in the country and the difficulty in proving claims of corruption there have been few convictions, and where there have been convictions the implementation of the sentences have been lacking. Recent cases have included Ayan Ali, Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and her husband. While Nawaz Sharif continues to be in jail, there are a series of appeals that he is making against his sentence and to date not a Rupee has been recovered from the alleged corruption. It is unfair to brand Pakistan as a highly corrupt society as corruption has become endemic in most societies with only a difference in the level of graft.

A cursory glance at the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2018 by Transparency International shows that Pakistan is surrounded by countries at a similar level of perceived corruption. In fact Pakistan ranks 117th out of the 180 countries; while China ranks 87th, India 78th and Russia 138th. Yet none of these countries are portraying themselves as ‘highly’ corrupt, and instead have focused on their economic growth and national security as top priorities. There is no denying the fact that there is corruption in Pakistan across a broad spectrum of public sector institutions. However, this has emerged more as a result of the failure of government, governance structures, and institutional independence. The need is not to highlight the level of corruption or the names of the corrupt, without proof. Rather the need is for reforming the system and the institutional framework to institute a culture of compliance to arrest the incidence of corruption. Media trials of those perceived to be corrupt should be replaced with objective debate on policy making to improve the system so that it can function with minimal levels of corruption. For that the democratic foundations have to be strengthened and made accountable, and the autocratic mentality has to be shed. Even the best rated countries, such as Denmark, are not immune to corruption and therefore total elimination is not a possibility, but reduction in corruption level is definitely possible.

The research on CPI establishes strong linkages between democracy and corruption:     

“Corruption chips away at democracy to produce a vicious cycle, where corruption undermines democratic institutions and, in turn, weak institutions are less able to control corruption” [Patricia Moreira Managing Director Transparency International]

The index, which ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and businesspeople, uses a scale of zero to 100, where zero is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean. More than two-thirds of countries score below 50 on the 2018 CPI, with an average score of just 43. Pakistan had a score of 33 in 2018, which places it well below the average score. India had a score of 41, while China had a score of 39. While there are exceptions, the data shows that despite some progress, most countries are failing to make serious inroads against corruption. The regions that have the highest score comprise the countries that have the strongest democratic norms, while the regions with the lowest score have the weakest democracies. As a result there is a strong linkage between the form of government and corruption.

There are no full democracies that score below 50 on the CPI. Similarly, very few countries which have autocratic characteristics score higher than 50. The research stipulates a clear link between a healthy democracy and success in curtailing public sector corruption.

The research also establishes that throughout the world, political leaders who run on a populist platform are gaining power and undermining democracy. High corruption rates can contribute to increased support for populist candidates. 

Corruption is endemic in all societies and countries, though the levels and intensity vary. Unfortunately, Pakistan has recently started on the path of democratic form of government and is still in an evolutionary phase. The years of neglect has taken a heavy toll in terms of institution building and the path for reformation needs to be set as Pakistan strengthens the democratic process. This will lead to institution building and greater accountability, which would help control the levels of corruption. The system should be self-correcting to take care of corruption and for that processes and compliance structures need to be strengthened. In the meantime Pakistan would not gain by highlighting corruption as the main problem facing the country. There are far greater economic and national security issues that need to be tackled and that should be the focus of the government.