Political corruption has lately come under serious attack and no wonder the political parties are using it as a powerful slogan in their election campaigns against their opponents. The issue has also attracted great media attention and the damaging effects of corruption on the economy and state legitimacy are discussed. Whatever the intent, voters in Pakistan have the right to know whether they are voting for honest and competent politicians in the forthcoming general elections against the Godfather style politicians.
Political corruption is referred to as violation of rules by people holding public authority for their personal gains. The question is what drives corruption?. Analyzing the issue in a political economy context suggests that corruption is deeply rooted in our clientelistic political relations and a divided political set up.
A dominant feature of such a system is that there are conflicts over resources and the powerful unite to secure power and wealth, which can be trailed to the corrupt and collusive practices among the political elite, their supporters and the bureaucrats.
As a result the system is marred with many cases of gross violations of law, misappropriation of public property or funds, abuse of public authority.
The issue is, while accumulating wealth and power rule following behavior does not seem to be of great concern and alarm to them. Yet despite serious corruption cases against the many political leaders they manage to get reelected and stay in power for decades. Quite honestly the promise that democracy reduces corruption and establishes rule of law has not been fulfilled so far. In a divided political set up politicians know their success depends on support from powerful groups who ensure their victory, but in return demand political benefits in the form of access to funds, contracts, positions, jobs and much more. To maintain their support and possibly political stability, the political benefits offered to them are largely illegal.
The difficulty is such a pattern of politics a) largely excludes clean and competent politicians from the political set up, neither can they ever provide illegal benefits nor will they be backed by the individuals who are involved in theft and illegal activities for personal gains b) damages economic growth by not being able to separate the allocation of political benefits from the management of private economic benefits that arise from the pursuit of rapid growth policies. If a society lets such a pattern of politics to prevail for long then the state authority starts to weaken, economic growth weakens, financial health worsens off and the country begins to go bankrupt. As we now know that political corruption is difficult to attack and it is even harder to prove, the recent anti-corruption move indicates eliminating corruption may not be an altogether impossible task to deal with. Clearly, politicians are responsible for the rampant corruption and no less than a political solution to the issue is warranted.
The damaging effects of corruption can be limited by adopting an anti-corruption strategy that is result oriented. First, strictly establish the rule of law. Second, private economic benefits must be managed with utmost sincerity so that economic growth is secured. Third, reform the election process, fix a maximum limit of two terms for the office of a prime minister and chief ministers, and restructure the divided political set up into few strong parties that have decent ethical standards, clear ideologies and long term plans for economic development and social renewal.