Corruption is an unfortunate aspect of governance in the third world. Though that does not mean to imply that it does not exist in the developed world, its presence isnt of the ubiquitous, in-your-face variety as the one that blights our institutions. The present government doesnt have too stellar a record as far as governance is concerned. It is neither good, nor clean. Nor does it realize that the precarious times of today cant possibly allow for the shady-business-as-usual of the roaring nineties. So the latest Transparency International report didnt spring any surprises when it gave the government a bad grade. TI reports that 77 percent of people believed corruption in the country has increased on this governments watch.

Though a corrupt government should definitely be taken to task, there are some points to ponder here. By its own admission, the Transparency report is a corruption perceptions index. Despite what postmodern claptrap might tell you, perception is not reality. The public has a disposition towards believing what they have been fed by the media, not experience. An analogy would be to ask a jury about how they feel about a defendant. But a simple questionnaire is far easier to pass around than conduct a painstaking activity of mapping out corruption and so it has to be for TI.

That would still have been ok had it been the extent of the problem. Last year TI put up some poorly worded questions, ones that invited answers about political orientation more than assessments of corruption, to anti-ANP votebanks in KP and pro-PML(N) districts in the Punjab. No points for guessing which provinces were rated most and least corrupt. This years rating of the political parties, police and parliament as most corrupt and military, media and religious bodies as the least are highly questionable. Defence kickbacks, yellow envelopes and the chanda rackets might not feature principally in the publics mindspace the way the police or the politicians do.

TIs chief in Pakistan has become a politicized figure, with a reputation for going only after political and civil institutions and glossing over the militarys transgressions. TI has been mandated to monitor a number of projects that the US government is footing the bill for. Perhaps the Americans should practice what they preach and put TIs act in order first.