Hajj scam

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How does one differentiate between refreshing candor and brazenness bordering on indifference? Minister for religious affairs Hamid Saeed Kazmi admitted to the Supreme Court the other day that there was indeed corruption in the Hajj fiasco but it was lesser than previous years. A statement like this, made under duress no doubt, is bound to attract criticism. Matters related to the Hajj fall in the ministers ambit. Admitting corruption is, in effect, an admission of failure on his part.

Corruption is an unfortunate aspect of governance, especially in the third world. It would do us good, however, to understand the dynamics of the problem without getting into the specifics of this particular scam. Recently, the federal railways minister also gave a statement about his ministry that bore close resemblance to Mr Kazmis statement. Across the country, the newly elected executive struts into his office and realizes that all isnt as simple as he thought it was. Not only is he or she confounded by the states limited capacity to respond to the challenges of the real world, the realization that corruption and graft are the lube that makes the gears of government turn also kicks in. In certain departments (the revenue department most famously) all that a minister or even the senior bureaucracy can do is to ensure that all hell doesnt break loose and look the other way when there is that bare minimum of corruption. It is an evil, arbitrary decision and no one has been mandated by the public to take it. But it is taken every day. Then, there is the additional impossibility of the minister concerned to micromanage everything to ensure there isnt any graft.

The above in no way implies that the minister was not involved in the Hajj fiasco. Furthermore, it was on his watch and he should be held accountable in one way or the other even if he did not profit financially. But his detractor Azam Swatis assertion that there can be no corruption without the minister being in the know is flawed, even for a relatively smaller ministry like that of religious affairs. Retribution is important; understanding the nature of the problem, even more so.