Dollars and Sense
May 19 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan) – There is only one way of dealing with corruption. Make it legal. Better still, make it mandatory. Why should the poor be denied opportunities the corrupt enjoy with such insouciant impunity? Corruption is the pestilence that leaves pockmarks of a Clive, a Capone, a Noriega, a Suharto, a Marcos, a Duvalier, an Abramovich.
Our society is no less disfigured. In its brief history, there has never been a time when corruption has not been `unearthed`, when disapproving tongues did not click, fingers wag in censure, and then, our public made to watch helplessly as incriminating evidence was swept under an increasingly threadbare carpet, and pursuable cases pickled.
Socialists once regarded corruption as the inseparable twin of capitalism. They held their credo to be the antidote to both. They thought they could create a society free of personal avarice. Tombstones to socialism testify otherwise. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, within a generation, Russia has reverted to a tainted tsardom, oily oligarchs replacing greedy grand dukes.
Its Marxist-Leninist neighbour the People`s Republic of China (PRC) through strenuously enforced discipline achieved a level of social equality for its citizens. It copied the best in the West, and then imitated its worst. Espousing entrepreneurship, it has also wedded corruption.
A generation ago, no one in the PRC men and women alike would have worn anything other than a uniform Mao suit.
Today, an agreement between the PRC and Pakistan on Lahore`s Orange Line is cloaked in secrecy, too sensitive, the Lahore High Court has been told, to be disclosed except in camera. Yet soon Ling Jihua (aide to retired president Hu Jintao) will stand trial for corruption in China`s courts.
Corruption was not unheard of before Panama sprang a leak. Like global warming, though, it has begun to be discussed at a global level because it has assumed gargantuan proportions with international ramifications Corruption sans Frontières. Ironically, the recent Anti-Corruption Conference 2016 (the latest of too many of its kind) was hosted in a country that produced Clive and the East India Company, and encouraged wealthy Arabs and Croesus Russians to hyper-inflate the UK property market.
What should be expected from such a conference? Teary admissions of guilt by offenders? Lachrymose remonstrances of innocence by suspects? Conscience-stricken repatriation of stolen assets? The Conference`s outcome a lengthy 34-paragraph communiqué emphasised the need to `minimise` (not eliminate) corruption, and of course expressed the iron, inflexible determination to hold more such conferences. Bribery is in effect a social contract, in that it requires both parties to give their consent, voluntarily. When bribes are demanded or given, each party becomes equally responsible, equally guilty. Both become accomplices.
The person giving the bribe knows why, to whom, and for what reason the payment is being made. So does the recipient. The go between pockets his fee for his silence. One does not need an international conference to understand the mechanics of corruption.
Is there a way of eliminating such pecuniary inducements? A solution was applied once in a public-sector corporation during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto`s time in the 1970s. The corporation was responsible for awarding contracts worth millions of dollars for the procurement of equipment for three large fertiliser plants. The corporation alerted its vendors that no invoices would be processed without an accompanying undertaking, executed by the supplier, that no commission, kick-back, or gratification in cash or in kindhad been given in connection with the transaction. It worked. That particular corporation was the only one out of 11 under the ministry of production not to be subjected to an official inquiry by Zia`s subsequent government.
Can such an undertaking be demanded nowadays? Why not? Even though such an undertaking is no more than a slip of paper, yet it underscores a serious commitment by all parties to observe standards of integrity and probity. One could ask: Why do people then succumb so easily to temptation? Their answer, of course, would be the same as that proffered by tired harlots who swear they would quit their profession, if only young bucks would stop importuning them.
Daily, the list provided by Panama leaks is lengthening. Daily, innocent intent is being misconstrued as evil evasion. Daily, many more people are wishing that they had not taken the advice of inventive lawyers to park their undisclosed wealth in offshore havens.
These embarrassed souls have a soul-mate in the scientist who made Pakistan a nuclear power. He denies owning a Bahamian company, accusing his late brother (a banker) of fiscal wizardry. He claims: `You know, bankers are always up to their tricks and hankypanky.` Too true! Only a devious banker would have advised his naïve brother to invest in a hotel in Timbuktu, rather than Park Lane.
The writer is an art historian www.fsaijazuddin.pk
This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan