Index Shenanigans

Asad Shabbir

Every couple of months, a new list or index surfaces, bringing with it a series of reinvigorated blame games, whataboutism, and verbal warfare. Recently, a report published by Transparency International dominated news cycles because Pakistan had fallen from rank 124 to 140. The machinery of political warfare rapidly churned out statement after statement, pouring through press conferences, tickers, and social media posts. Yet behind attempts to gain political capital, lay a historically fractured nucleus which cultivated various issues like corruption. This government has done to counter corruption what perhaps no other government has tried before.
Transparency International employs data from eight different organisations which give Pakistan a standardised score. These scores are then weighted against each other, compared with other similar countries, and there is always a margin of uncertainty. This process is concluded with the averaging of all eight ratings to provide a final score which, in Pakistan’s case this year, was 28. However, a noteworthy feature of this process is all the data used to calculate the ratings reflects perceptions. Perceptions, by their very nature, are subjective, malleable, and evolving. It is not possible for any report to capture the sentiments, views, and perceptions of a large number of segments, groups, and demographic variables that reflect an entire nation.
Given Pakistan’s disappointing interaction with FATF in the past few quarters and the scandal around World Bank’s ‘Ease of doing Business’ list, a renewed sense of suspicion is not wholly unjustified. In terms of compliance, Pakistan has met all the points given by FATF and has remained grey listed due to immense Indian lobbying, to which even Indian representatives have proudly confessed to. Despite the promises of liberalism, the issue of Kashmir has taken the backseat as India’s economic and geopolitical promises have silenced many defenders of human rights and equality. In terms of credibility, the lists are perhaps more a reflection of international realpolitik ambitions and capability rather than eliminating corruption.
It would be, however, unfair to deny the truth and call into question international motives alone. Pakistan has a well documented history of struggling with corruption in various forms. To the average citizen, the road to justice is often littered with bribes, phone calls to Mr./Ms. XYZ, and other underhanded pre-requisites. As Ambassador Abdullah Haroon said in an interview “Corruption is the game of South Asia.” This does not, however, mean that steps have not been actively taken to eliminate the menace. This report, rather than being a charge sheet against the current administration, is more of an endorsement of PTI’s rallying cry for accountability and transparency.
Perceptions are governed by the environment; news cycles have been dominated by scandals of previous administrations being exposed for the past three years. A former Prime Minister was sentenced by the Supreme Court, various mega-corruption scandals have been brought to light, and the National Accountability Bureau has been prominently empowered. This increased visibility and amplification of corruption-related issues directly affects perceptions which are then used to rate Pakistan at 140 globally. This increased visibility and public scrutiny is also something that people voted for in 2018.
PTI’s government has done a decent job: in terms of a report card, NAB has recovered a total of PKR 819B since its inception; out of this PKR 539B has been recovered in the past four years. It has also brought 66 cases of mega-corruption to logical conclusions, convicting 1194 individuals. In NAB’s annual report, comprehensive updates about forensic facilities, improving efficiency, and institutional reforms have helped garnered 59% national satisfaction, according to Gallup & Gillani. The marriage of institutions like NAB with mechanisms like the PM’s Citizen Portal which has seen over 4 million complaints shows a positive direction to which Pakistan is being steered.
The principles of accountability have also been integrated at every functional level rather than being seen as complementary add-on. Despite having to brave international scrutiny, major sectors have sacrificed short-term gains for integrity through transparency. A major example is the Aviation sector which reformed the process for licensing of pilots despite global dismay and denting of repute for Pakistani pilots. There is still a far way to go and the report can help guide the administration in its quest to eliminate corruption.
Dialogue, debate, and a healthy opposition are fundamental pillars of any democracy. In the blurry intersection, lies a line that separates constructive discourse from the destructive. This government, along with the opposition, should continue its quest of eliminating corruption and not get sidetracked by distractions, divisive rhetoric-based enthusiasm, and such lists. Corruption is as much a problem for Imran Khan as it is for a lorry driver in Zhob ; it must be treated at an individual level. Pakistan deserves constructive discourse, willingness to enforce mechanisms, the courage to deny mafias, and an ideological indoctrination of the masses against this evil.