The reform agenda


Eradication of corruption has been a focal point for every society

The study of corruption, its effects and more importantly, its solutions, ranks among one of the most studied topics of governance and economics. At a clinical level, the link between corruption and economic growth is weak at best. Economists contend that corruption introduces a perverse sort of efficiency, a price for procuring government services. On a more human level, however, the effects of corruption cannot be denied or washed over because the commodification of government services that ought to be a citizens’ right are then priced beyond their reach.

The eradication of corruption has been a focal point for every society. Developed countries have been able to, more or less, reduce corruption to negligible proportions. The challenge, then, is for developing countries to tackle corruption without the same level of institutional or economic development.

For most of the developing world, corruption remains a pressing problem. Success has been achieved by some countries in effectively tackling corruption, while the majority reel from one unsuccessful policy to another, unable to overcome this issue. Societies that are able to reduce corruption reap large dividends, economic and social. Pakistan, which suffers from increasing levels of corruption, could do well with a number of reforms in order to lessen the impact of corruption. But what exactly does reform related to corruption entail and what specific steps need to be taken to make reform effective and sustainable?

Because the term is essentially broad in nature, encompassing a vast number of fields, the fight against corruption entails very specific measures. Corruption involving the police is essentially different in nature than corruption that might involve the Patwari, tackling either will involve very specific steps that take into account the present administrative set-up. However, below are a few measures that may be applied broadly; starting points to effectively tackle corruption.

One way to reduce corruption, which would require very little monetary compensation, is to provide as much information regarding government projects as possible

The first thing that often comes up in conversations regarding corruption reform is the lack of financial remuneration. While this view is certainly warranted, low pays lead to financial pressures, which allows government officials to, firstly, justify corruption on moral grounds and, secondly, exert enough financial pressure on said officials to tip the balance in favour of corruption on the external rewards-punishment front.

The logic is sound and certainly true, government officials should be paid, if not at par, then at least near about what they would get in the private sector. However, the argument for higher pays often glosses over the mechanisms that allow corruption. Simply increasing salaries will not eradicate or even reduce corruption, it will simply provide another stream of cash flows to government officials who know how to play the system. The judicial system is a case in point, despite higher wages, the system still suffers from the same issues it did a decade back.

One way to reduce corruption, which would require very little monetary compensation, is to provide as much information regarding government projects as possible. More information will always be preferable to less information. Being able to track the progress of projects easily and see where money is being spent will likely increase pressure on the government to allocate its resources less frivolously. Additionally, given timely information on how tax money has been spent by elected representatives, voter decision making could be positively affected, leading to an ousting of corrupt and incompetent individuals. For such a system to work, however, the credibility of the issuing organisation must be established in the mind of the electorate.

What about increased participation of civil society? Do projects that involve some measure of oversight by the local populace reduce corruption? The jury is still out on that one, with some randomised control trial (RCT) produced results that favoured the participation of civil society while other RCT, especially one conducted in Indonesia by Ben Olken of MIT, showcased improvements in resource allocation and a reduction in corruption under very specific circumstances only.

Technology now too has an essential role in the fight against corruption. The increasing connectivity of citizens should be taken advantage of and this connectivity needs to be integrated and taken account of in this fight. Systems that allow citizens to lodge complaints against corrupt officials are already in place, the challenge is to sustain the use of such systems to collate information regarding corrupt officials over a large period of time, and perhaps even publish this collected data every year. These complaints could be further broken down into whether they concern efficiency or corruption issues.

What about increased participation of civil society? Do projects that involve some measure of oversight by the local populace reduce corruption?

Pair this with tenured positions for government officials, stop the rag-doll syndrome of tossing officials around whenever it pleases the powers that be, and we could have a very clear indication of how government servants are doing. The number of complaints per year could be a powerful objective indicator of officials’ efficiency and competence. The challenge, however, lies in convincing people to keep lodging their complaints. One would imagine that citizens will eventually stop registering their grievances unless and until they see some utility in going through the process.

On a more administrative level, perhaps having a single organisation battling corruption could be far more effective than the piecemeal approach here in Pakistan. There are anti-corruption agencies at both provincial and national level with little coordination between them. The FIA, NAB, ACEs all have overlapping jurisdictions that need to be smothered out to make anti-corruption campaigns more effective.

The creation of a single anti-corruption agency could greatly increase efficiency of prosecuting corruption cases. Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission established in 2002, Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK), had great success in fighting corruption cases in the country. The extremely powerful commission, which had its own legal system and courts, was able to convict a number of high profile officials and politicians including those close to and serving in the ruling party of Susilo Bambang Yudhyono. It would be pertinent to mention that one of Yudhyono’s main promises during his election campaign was eradication of corruption.

For developing countries, corruption is nothing short of a behemoth. It involves a mind-boggling number of variables and controlling all of them would be near impossible. Implementing a one size fits all approach to corruption would be an exercise in futility, and the world knows how many of those have already happened. The complexity of the issue can be ascertained when the World Bank finds itself frustrated on this front, finding itself overwhelmed by what is probably the most pressing issue in the developing world.

Despite the challenge though, countries have been able to effectively tackle corruption through the implementation of home grown solutions. In a previous article I have written about Rwanda’s successful fight against corruption. There is no reason why Pakistan could not achieve the same.