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Culture of deception

Huzaima Bukhari

“The more people rationalize cheating, the more it becomes a culture of dishonesty. And that can become a vicious, downward cycle. Because suddenly, if everyone else is cheating, you feel a need to cheat too”—Stephen Covey

A video that has gone viral shows a man sitting in the sabzi mandi (fruit and vegetable market) diligently covering potatoes with dirt by making slight cuts with a knife for the purpose of increasing their weight so that a higher price can be obtained. Watching this act, when a passerby reminded him of the accountability on the day of judgement, there did not seem to be any effect on him and he flagrantly continued with his dirty deed as if nothing mattered to him; as if his conscience was not asleep but dead.

Some four to five decades back, the norm was that people generally avoided association with those who were found to be using corrupt practices or resorting to dishonesty in order to become rich. There was a sense of right and wrong with the honest held in high esteem. In fact, the few who indulged in making money through illicit means were easily identifiable that set them apart. As the famous adage goes by ‘birds of a feather flock together’ they were compelled to move in their own club of shifty members but as time passed it was observed that although known for their illegal ways, the governments in power were unable to apprehend or punish them for whatever reasons; while the honest found themselves struggling to lead proper respectable lives. In this scenario the next thing that was bound to happen was—if they can get away so can we.

Thus began an unholy rush. Slowly and steadily, dishonesty found its way in all ranks and files. What to speak of corrupt people, even the government policies were such that made people tell lies. For starters, take the case of the Stamp Act, 1899 under which, immovable property is supposed to be registered involving a percentage duty on its value. Under no circumstances can the property be registered at a value lower than one that has been assigned by the deputy commissioner, popularly called DC rate. This means that even where a property’s DC rate is, say 100 is sold for 70, registration will have to be made at 100 by paying the relevant amount of duty. Where, however, it is sold for 150, then principally registration should also be on 150 but people get away by applying the DC rate. Property papers are prepared accordingly and everyone is happy, the government on receiving stamp duty and the owners by evading stamp duty to the tune of 50. No proceedings are conducted against the defaulters nor anyone penalised for evading duty because this is normal.

Another interesting situation arises when loyal citizens of the country submit an honest return of income declaring true particulars of their incomes and wealth to the best of their abilities and paying whatever income tax is determined. Despite their truthfulness, the revenue authorities reject their declarations on the basis of doubt, raise tax demands through audit and force them to pay more tax than their actual tax liability. Consequently their next returns are a reflection of lies they are compelled into by officials who refuse to accept reality. On the other hand, chronic tax cheats escape in ways (even government sponsored) far beyond the imagination of patriotic nationalists. Of course we are quite aware that in this process how many benefit from illegal enrichment that ensues as a result of these malpractices.

Coming down to various trades and professions, one witnesses innumerable instances of wrongdoings especially when it comes to hoarding, black-marketing, misrepresentation, adulteration, over-pricing with little or no interception by regulators. People squeal at the way money is extracted from them as their needs are exploited by crafty shopkeepers. Manufacturers are busy in raising prices while reducing the size of their products.

A good number of under-qualified and a few qualified professionals too are busy in fleecing their clients in different ways. They play with their health, money, skills and even lives in utter acts of shamelessness just because they want to achieve the end of becoming wealthy without considering the legality of means. Some teachers, who are supposedly the most honourable members of the professional fraternity, have maligned it using the most deplorable methods. A few doctors have been playing havoc with their patients’ health employing unethical ways of treatment. Quite a number of lawyers take advantage of their clients’ vulnerability and deliberately keep them hooked onto lengthy litigations. Dubious contractors do not deliver projects uprightly and the results are faulty roads, bridges, buildings that can be detrimental for the masses and that constantly require repairs year after year.

As blue collar crimes remain on the rise so are white collar ones. There are regular cases of embezzlements, frauds, deceptions, inside trading, that can destroy companies and even the financial stability of clients, employees including communities at large. A handful without remorse can be deleterious for a huge population but what does it matter as long as a few bucks can be snatched from those who have them. Some of the techniques used by the elite to plunder this country are syphoning off money, using off-shore accounts for stacking it, establishing shell companies to conceal black money, settling their families abroad to escape whenever things go against their interests.

Over the last fifty years Pakistan’s cultural scene has become infested with the disease of prevarication the germs of which have cast their influence on even the most steadfast and who consider themselves loyal to this country. Unfortunately, those who were supposed to behold values have started discarding them to keep pace with the rapidly changing environment but in the words of Leo Tolstoy: “Wrong does not cease to be wrong, because the majority share in it.”  

A time will come when realisation reveals the hideousness of this era of dishonesty and the disgusting outcomes that have mutilated the beauty of this country and its people and we sincerely hope that this will not be too far away.


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)

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