Supporting Democracy & Stability Key To Reducing Corruption

Transparency International makes headlines every year when they release their Corruption Perception Index.

The causes of official corruption are many – from historical roots that can be traced to the Mughal empire to the pervasiveness of petty bribery in daily life. Earlier this week, however, Transparency International identified one are of particular interest: political instability.

This is not an uncommon problem. A study of political corruption in Africa pointed to a situation that may be familiar.

From east to west, the pattern is drearily repetitive. Keep just enough at home to rig the next election/pay off the army/build a garish palace (complete with Olympic-sized swimming pool and helicopter on the lawn). Stow the rest in offshore bank accounts in Uncle Binzi’s name, buy flats in the most expensive districts of Brussels, Paris and London – the kids, after all, will need a base in between terms at Eton and Harrow – and set up a handful of offshore companies. Whatever you do, get the money out of the country and never bring it back.

Africa’s history of political instability has also played its part. Presidents who knew they could be overturned at any moment rushed to steal as much as they could in the time available to them. In Nigeria, the post-independence elite initially invested their new-found wealth domestically, only to see those assets appropriated by incoming administrations. The likes of the late General Sani Abacha, who sent an estimated $4bn abroad, were careful not to repeat the mistake. “The thinking is always: ‘I am certain to be probed once I leave power, so I had better put everything abroad’,” says a Nigerian banker.

It’s widely suspected that Gen. Musharraf’s London lifestyle is financed in part by funds siphoned from US aid to Pakistan. And he’s not the only former Pakistani leader to face exile, and not the only one accused of funding his exile with looted funds. Former Prime-Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto both lived in exile, and both suffered accusations of official corruption.

We learned from the diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks that Pakistan’s current president, Asif Ali Zardari, has asked the United Arab Emirates to allow his family to live there in the event of his death, an event he believes would not be accidental. His concerns are not without merit. A popular theme in the Pakistani media during 2009 was the “Minus One Formula” – an alleged plan by the military to remove Zardari from power.

In the US, we put our ex-Presidents to pasture on book tours and lecture circuits. Pakistan’s political leadership has historically faced less attractive options. Knowing the stakes, it would be irrational for Pakistani political leaders not to make decisions to ensure their self-preservation – decisions that may involve engaging in some level of official corruption as a means to establishing a foreign safety net in the event of a coup. That doesn’t make it right, but it does make it a reality.

All of this, of course, reinforces the need to support the democratic process as key to reducing corruption and the perception of corruption in Pakistan. Pakistani columnist Cyril Almeida writes for the English-language daily Dawn that Pakistan still lacks political stability and the threat of military intervention, while weakened, still looms in the background of Pakistan’s domestic politics. His solution – stabilizing the nation’s contentious democratic process.

Official corruption is not a problem unique to Pakistan. A recent BBC report claims that the entire world may be more corrupt than it was three years ago. Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, says the government considers corruption a form of terrorism, and is taking action to eliminate it throughout the government. Without the assurance of a stable democratic system, though, the temptation to engage in corruption as a means to create a safety net will endure. The US has many options when it comes to helping Pakistan eliminate corruption – the first should be working to ensure a stable and enduring democratic system. Without that foundation, progress will be hard to come by.

One thought on “Supporting Democracy & Stability Key To Reducing Corruption

  1. It was not long ago that we appeared to long and pray for ‘democracy’ nor was it the first time that such a desire was expressed. But it is also known that, in the past, soon after the assumption of political power by some democratic governments, disappointments set in quite early, and overt and covert actions were taken to get rid of those democratic dispensations. The usual cause of disappointment has been corruption and inefficiency. This is the chequered history of democratic governments in this country. Now, again, voices are being heard expressing dissatisfaction and seeking change. The timing is not different either, i.e. less than three years of a democratic set-up have gone by. The governments of the PPP and PML-N were removed twice in the 1990s. Government is being accused for failing to coup with ripening challenges. But the real issues is not the performance of government, the basic issue is political culture of democracy in Pakistan, where several forces including some religious parties, establishment and agencies do not like democracy for it does not bode well to their nefarious designs. They are playing beautifully with the sentiments of people. They give a short chance to democracy then invite dictatorship to rule for long. The game is once again on but people are much more political sense than past and I am sure this time democracy will prevail.

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