From body bags to bags of money, the horror/thriller continues. First it was 500 million rupees found in the luggage of model, Ayyan Ali, and now it is 750 million rupees found in 12 bags in water tanks and car bumpers of Mushtaq Raisani, Finance Secretary, Balochistan, which has made the grab-the-money-and-fly cliche become a reality. Not to forget 450 billion rupees that Dr Asim Hussain allegedly stowed away over years that are now being contested in the court. The Panama leaks may seem mild compared to the leaking bags of money that are now being discovered by our apologetic investigative agencies under pressure from some quarters to do their job. This lsquo;discovery of money could be business as usual but for two things. It has happened at a time when corruption is the hot topic, and it is happening to people who are in places that are untouchable. But more than the discovery the debate doing rounds is that does it really mean corrupt people are now going to be apprehended? Does it really mean corruption is going to be deterred if not eliminated? Does it really mean that laws and institutions curtailing corruption will become effective?
Corruption has been the major menace in the country for as long as memory recalls. From politicians to media, from businesses to households, there is an indisputable consensus on corruption levels reaching new heights every year. The World Corruption Index places Pakistan in the category of most corrupt countries. According to the head of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) head, Pakistan, every day, loses between 10 to 12 billion rupees due to corruption. Every opposition wins an election on promises of removing corruption. Every government loses an election due to failure in removing corruption. Every military takeover is justified on corrupt-ridden democracy, and every military leader is ousted due to his coalition with the corrupt.
Corruption is the big buzzword in private and public power corridors, but unfortunately that is all what it is: a buzzword. The more we condemn it the more we do it. The prevalence of corruption is so rampant that most people actually believe that it is impossible to tackle it or even reduce it, thus why bother raising your voice over it. That is perhaps the biggest victory of manufacturers of corruption. They have made it a monopoly of the rich and the powerful who override all laws, all protests and all systems to oil the production lines of corruption. From bribes to inflated projects to influential postings, avenues of corruption have become too innovative and diverse to be easily controllable. The price of not being part of the corrupt system is almost unaffordable, and thus even for the simplest, fair and menial task the fee to get it done is part of the standard operating procedure adopted by any service provider in the public sector.
Government offices are the leading perception builders of this speed-money concept. In the latest survey conducted by Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), 64 percent people think that government officials are involved in corruption. 82 percent respondents in Balochistan feel that corruption exists in government, and this figure seems quite justified after the almost surreal presence of cash, prize bonds and jewellery from the finance secretarys house. Apparently, Mr Raisani was Balochistans lsquo;Mr 10 percent, and on every development project, especially from local government funds, it was understood that Mr Raisanis share would be delivered through direct home services on his doorstep. Mr Raisani, very stoically, told NAB officials that they were lucky because if they had raided his house a day later the money would have been laundered through hundi (informal value transfer system) in some offshore account.
Sindh has become more famous for corruption in the last decade or so, and the incidences of target killing and bhatta (extortion money) have literally become woven in the political economy of the province. It is therefore not surprising that in the FAFEN survey 72 percent people in Sindh also agree that their government is corrupt. Aside from body bags in Karachi, bags of money were transferred to the lord and leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement in Britain regularly till 2012. A raid in his house helped discover 400,000 pounds of cash lying in his bedroom.
Is Punjab a clean province? The FAFEN report actually points out that 68 percent of people believe that government officials are corrupt, and that it leads to a high level of bribe-taking where nearly 12 percent people have actually seen lsquo;money transactions being done. But then where are the bags of money? Well, two reasons why there is no big fish caught with overflowing bags. Firstly, federal government institutions like NAB and FIA are under the same party as Punjab, and thus despite a video of Rana Mashood clearly showing him taking bribe, he is still the minister of education. Secondly, the methodology of payoffs in Punjab is not on cash percentages but project kickbacks that are deposited in offshore accounts. That leaves the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. According to the FAFEN survey it has fared the best in terms of corruption-control with just one percent of the population having actually observed corrupt behaviour of government officials. One of the reasons might be the empowered Ehtesab Commission that indicted a sitting minister on an allegation of corruption.
This take-the-money-and-run approach has been facilitated by exit strategies of the influential. Names on exit control lists are just names on paper that holds an arm-twisting value. Historically, exits of influential people are accompanied with not just bags of money but money containers. There are many stories reported about nearly all leaders who ruled but honorably or dishonorably exited the country nearly always with goodie bags that were worth billions. Those who are left behind are so inspired by this quick buck strategy that they feel that offshore companies are not the only way but onshore vaults can serve the purpose of unloading bags equally well.
Money brings more money and more money brings more power and influence. However, if money you make is from other peoples money you cannot keep it, own it and use it without breaking laws and bending rules. The partial and selective activation of NAB and anti-corruption drives is not enough. The accountability drives in Sindh and Balochistan are also focused on the lower tiers. The higher tiers have obviously stowed their bags of money not in their home gardens but in overseas black money havens. Unless these institutions are not held accountable by the citizens of a country, democracies become euphemisms for autocracy.
The writer is a columnist and analyst and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org