Pakistan And Global Anti-Corruption Agenda

Posted on 10/23/13
By Ikram Sehgal | ViewsWeek
(Photo via Transparency International)
(Photo via Transparency International)

After an inordinate delay Qamar Zaman Chaudhry has been appointed the NAB Chairman (National Accountability Bureau, Pakistan’s central accountability organization). A credible bureaucrat with an impeccable record, he has the right CV (resume). Bringing Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI lead by former cricket hero Imran Khan), the third largest party in the National Assembly (NA, the lower house of Pakistan’s parliament), into the consultations, could have avoided the unfortunate controversy about his appointment. The delay underscores the fact that accountability, on top of the agenda in public aspirations, is not really a priority for our politicians, and for good reason. Why should they blow a police whistle on themselves? No wonder politicians elected to Parliament in country after country have cut down the budget of their accountability entities in a vain attempt to curb their potential.

Our resolve to root out corruption at the highest reaches of government and society has been weak. Like inflation, corruption has force-multiplied to become an inescapable part of our daily lives. Just talking and/or planning to take deterrent action does not solve the problem, the systems must evolve so that, except for the extreme necessities of national security, everything is open for detailed public scrutiny. The pursuit of accountability is a zero-sum game; unfortunately political nuances and self-interest compromise its implementation. In many third world countries the guilty use “democracy” as a camouflage for their crimes.

The moral obligation to the downtrodden and poverty stricken masses makes it incumbent for those in power to face upto their moral and ethical responsibilities. What use is a Constitution that does not prevent the unscrupulous from looting the till, it is a meaningless piece of paper to a man whose children remain hungry, sick and uneducated as a result. Without the courage to do their fundamental duty as per the authority vested in them, they are as much culpable as those involved in the corruption they try to absolve themselves of it. Most leaders of the so-called “free world” during the cold war were civilian and military dictators/absolute monarchs who not only looted their country blind but reveled in it. Very much frowned upon in the west, money laundering, evasion of taxes, flight of capital, etc. were conveniently ignored in the 1950s and 1960s to support tyrants in the name of “democracy” and “freedom” in the fight against communism. The lack of accountability in a totalitarian rule contributed to creating an ideal breeding ground for corruption.  

The apathy of the west in the face of well-known cases of known corruption is a sad reflection on the process of democracy. The US$ 60 million supposedly in (former President Asif Ali) Zardari’s name in Swiss banks will probably never be recovered, being legally time-barred by judicial filibustering. Such corrupt people could not have survived politically in the west, unfortunately it makes no difference to their acceptability and lifestyle, the cocktail circuit in expensive apartments in a square mile around Hyde Park in London is full of known white collar thieves in the form of former dictators, bank defaulters, tax evaders, money-launderers, etc.

A free media and wide-ranging literacy can contribute to check and balance in governance but what happens if the media is itself corrupted? With the authority of the State compromised, the capacity for malfeasance is force-multiplied many times over. Why do western democracies allow corrupt leaders to bankrupt their fledgling nations (and move their ill-gotten gains to their countries) when they themselves do not tolerate similar behavior in their environment?

Being personally involved in the cutting edge of the struggle against terrorism for over two decades, one’s over-riding concern is that corruption morphs easily into “Organized Crime”, described by the United Nations (UN) as being “large-scale and complex criminal activity carried on by groups of persons, however loosely or tightly organized, for the enrichment of those participating and at the expense of the community and its members through ruthless disregard of any law, including offences against the person, and frequently in connection with political corruption”. Organized crime and terrorism have developed a symbiotic relationship, the nexus resulting from ineffective governance.

Once embarked on his (or her) ghastly mission, a suicide bomber will cause collateral damage, both human and material, the quantum depending upon whether he (or she) reaches the designated objective or detonates his (or her) lethal cargo carried in a public place short of the objective. There are very little defense against such acts, the only way is to eliminate the nexus between terrorism, corruption and organized crime.  Each evil being fought individually, corruption must be first targeted to starve organized crime and terrorism of money.

Terrorist organizations can include or are supported by common criminals with special skills or access to networks or criminal opportunities. Where does one get the money laundered from, the ability to purchase explosives, have valid identification documents, etc. and the logistics for travel and accommodation? With increased criminal activity replacing ideology, profit and greed are the main motivating drivers for operations of some terrorist groups.

Globalization has made it all the more necessary to develop a cohesive modus operandi of cooperating in real-time on a fast-track and coordinated basis using all the means and resources available directed to rooting out the menace of corruption. The World Economic Forum (WEF) set up the “Partnering Against Corruption Initiative” (PACI) in 2004 as a global, multi-industry, multi-stakeholder anti-corruption initiative. PACI was meant to raise business standards and contribute to a competitive, transparent, accountable and ethical business society.

To quote the PACI website, “Corruption is widely recognized as a major obstacle to the stability, growth and competitiveness of economies. Business has a unique opportunity to join forces with governments and other stakeholders to find lasting solutions to problems of corruption and to create a level playing field for today’s globalized markets. Taking a leadership role is not only a matter of ensuring organizational compliance. It is a strategic imperative for every CEO”.

To quote from an Anti-corruption Workshop conducted by PACI in India, “lack of enforcement of the legal and regulating framework for addressing corruption is often cited as a major impediment to promoting real change, especially in the business environment. Moreover, lack of coordination and conflicting mandates between the different actors – business, government, civil society – reduce the effectiveness of anti-corruption and transparency measures.” Helping to foster a high-level dialogue between business and governments. PACI asks business leaders to sign a set of Principles, committing (1) to a zero tolerance policy towards bribery and corruption and (2) agreeing to establish an internal anti-corruption program.

The global anti-corruption agenda has been helped by PACI to successfully set a strategic policy level, to drive change in key markets through targeted initiatives and partnerships. There is heightened public, media and business interest surrounding corruption-related issues. The PACI Principles are the same that should be the touchstone for public sector accountability entities like NAB, a globally recognized benchmark to track and encourage compliance efforts by multi-national companies that face bribery and extortion in many countries.

For third world entities attempting to root out corruption, association with private sector entities like PACI, being multi-national, multi-dimensional and multi-stakeholder, would be multi-beneficial.

Criminals and terrorists evade detection, arrest and punishment by easily operating across international borders, taking full advantage of the reluctance of law enforcement authorities to engage in complicated and expensive transnational investigations and prosecutions.  Money is used to buy influence and power, imagine the potency of such illegals having, more often than not, the official authority of the State behind their operations?

The “Ephedrine” case in Pakistan where along with the former Prime Minister’s son, federal Ministers, sitting members of the National Assembly, etc. were all illegally involved is a case in point. Those who have the courage to point out wrongdoing to officialdom are targeted with dire threats, posted to out of way places, placed on suspension, superseded for promotion, etc. Consider the irony of the accuser being persecuted instead of the accused being prosecuted? Something like this happened to the senior officials of the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) in Pakistan in the Gilani case.

Globalization has made it increasingly necessary for civilized society to combat the evil nexus organizing all available resources, using the ingenuity and resources of the private sector to complement the limitations of the public sector. Elected governments having criminal trappings is a sure recipe for proliferation of terrorism under “democratic” cover. When the rule of law becomes the domain of those who live outside the rule of law, accountability becomes a figment of imagination.  Consider former Prime Minister (Yousuf Raza) Gilani’s crocodile tears in the face of irrefutable evidence. When criminals function in the name of justice, justice becomes a crime.

The theme for the PACI’s “Community Meeting” on October 14-15 in Geneva was “the importance of providing leadership against corruption and why managing corruption-related risks is increasingly an imperative for business leaders.” The first session noted the tremendous progress made in the last 10 years, once multi-national companies (MNCs) were averse to discussing such issues in public, now each took great pains to public highlight the achievement of their “Legal and Compliance” Divisions to ensure that no corporate individual or client could circumvent the “code of ethics” designed to check corruption.

According to PACI, “The revised strategy builds on the fundamental value proposition of providing a platform for business leaders to share, learn and develop leading-edge thinking and best practices in the fight against corruption, and adds new components that stress collective action and high-level policy impact.”

Among the 100 or so participants from all over the world in the PACI Meeting were academics, business leaders, government officials, bankers, etc.  The delegates included Paul Low Seng-Kuan, Malaysia’s Minister for Integrity, Adam Blackwell, Secretary Multi-Dimensional Security of the OAS, Barbara Martin, Director General Canadian Foreign Ministry, Nicola Bonucci, Director OECD etc.

Almost all major financial institutions and concerned entities (like Transparency International (TI)) were represented. To underscore the importance of the PACI Meeting, WEF’s MD Robert Greenhill chaired the Opening Session.  The entire two days were packed with interest, Elaine Dezenski, Senior Director WEF and PACI’s Head and Joel Fernandes, Senior Community Manager PACI, keeping the participants energized and alive over whole two days with targeted information and innovative inter-active discussions.

The discussions centered on the strategic means for combating corruption, the highlight being “Designing Corruption out of the System” by an effective “Anti-Corruption Transformation Map” coalescing all the factors needed in such an engagement.  The considered opinion was that “Collective Action” by both business and public sectors with the factors of “Business Case and Strategic Business Risk”, “Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR)” and “Financial Disclosures” in one cluster must drive “Government and Public Policy” with its factors of “Legal and Regulating Framework”, “Public Education and Awareness and “Changing Societal Norms, Priorities and Values” in another cluster being the drivers of change.  Associated with the former are “Implementation and Resource Capabilities”, “Shifting Geo-political Risk”, “Capital and Trade Plans” and “Advances in Technology”, while” Global Supply Chains”, “Income Inequality” and “Capital on Trade Flows” contributes to the latter cluster.

“Anti-Corruption Transformation Map” is an important ingredient to forge a great action plan combatting the menace of corruption, and by extension, organized crime and terrorism. Almost all MNCs have strong institutionalized and merit-based systems, during doing away with discretionary powers as the basic ingredients to confronting corruption.

Measures needed to beat corruption include reducing of human contact between the public and private sector, to improve it’s documentation (making it increasingly e-documentation), improving the quality of oversight and having an honest, dedicated and correct leadership.    Corruption can only be eradicated if the rules are applicable equally to everyone, regardless of their connections.  A leader’s good intentions and/or his will is rarely translated into deeds, selective accountability compromises the entire process.

NAB functioned effectively in Pakistan for a few years. (General Pervez) Musharraf destroyed his finest initiative by restraining NAB for his own self-survival from going after those in the upper social circuit who are not only corrupt but foment corruption (dinner, drinks, and even women on the house as a regular feature).

Some very corrupt Chairmen NAB exploited this green light to the hilt for lining their own pockets. These scoundrels gave new meaning to the very term they prosecuted people for, “living beyond one’s means”. A great number of NAB officials have done tremendous work, the history of the institution they served honestly and diligently has been tainted by a few scoundrels. Compare the assets of some of NAB’s top officials when they took service with NAB, and presently. NAB must conduct self-accountability of all its former Chairmen and their key executives on a fast-track basis, that is the only way to get back the eroded credibility of a very fine institution.

Most problems can be traced to the willingness of those under oath to tell lies with impunity, to forge documents, to erase, alter, deface, mutilate, etc. evidence as may be required. For personal gain, whether monetary or otherwise, false representation of facts and distortions, “outright lies” is the order of the day.

The Oxford Dictionary defines perjury as “an act of willfully telling an untruth when on oath”, and goes on to use the words, “lying, mendacity, mendaciousness, falsification, deception, untruthfulness, dishonesty, duplicity”.  In simple terms, a perjurer is a criminal.  And what about lawyers who are sworn to uphold the law? And accounting firms whose task it is to present unadulterated accounts? It should be made incumbent upon the lawyers to carefully satisfy themselves that they do not present false evidence to try and exonerate their clients, accounting firms which audit accounts can easily find out if any money has been diverted for bribes, etc.  Both legal counsel and accounting firms should be liable to be blacklisted along with those they help to escape accountability.

Regional and local engagement are critical to making an impact, PACI is assiduously connecting its members with emerging markets where corruption drives away investment.  Instead of trying to re-invent the wheel, with opportunity to emulate good practices and a vast potential for free of cost networking, public sector accountability institutions like NAB must look for a meaningful association with PACI.

This article is based on a recent WEF’s “Partnering Against Corruption Initiative” (PACI) Community Meeting in Geneva on 14-15 Oct 2013. The author is one of Pakistan’s leading defense analyst and entrepreneur. 

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