Corruption perceptions

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And reality

The government will, no doubt, rejoice at Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index, which says Pakistan was the only South Asian country that improved its score in ’15, though only by one point. Going by the report, India, Nepal Sri Lanka and Bangladesh either maintained old scores or slid a notch. Yet Pakistan’s direction was in keeping with the wider trend, which found more countries improved their score than declined, even though ‘corruption is still rife globally’.

However, as much as the government must be congratulated for the achievement, it is also important not to read too much into the Index. It is based not on statistical trends or data analytics, but rather on ‘expert opinions of public sector corruption’. Transparency International is, of course, a respected anti-corruption watchdog, and its nametag attaches immense credibility to research reports. But perceptions will still remain perceptions. And most likely such reports source information from ‘experts’ observing certain theatres from far away, on basis of more ‘research reports’. Still, any efforts to chart and fight corruption must be welcomed, provided they are constantly upgraded to identify and improve the situation on the ground.

Such headlines might win the government a few perception points – as the name suggests – internationally, but the confidence is not likely to extend beyond the ruling party at home. Corruption, unfortunately, remains a big issue with the government’s position still largely unclear. There has long been talk about a ruthless accountability drive, which will bring the corrupt to book. Yet the odd high profile case that made the news has since become a directionless spectacle, with little to inspire confidence about the exercise’s possible success or expansion. The government must take this issue seriously. As democracy is growing, so is the people’s awareness, and their ability to vote out governments that do not deliver. The PPP would have useful stories to tell in this regard. There is often a large gap between perception and reality, and the government must be smart enough to appreciate it.