Huzaima Bukhari & Abdul Rauf Shakoori
This is no coincidence. Corruption enables human rights abuses, setting off a vicious and escalating spiral. As rights and freedoms are eroded, democracy declines, and authoritarianism takes its place, which in turn enables higher levels of corruption—Executive Summary, Corruption Perception Index 2021
Transparency International released Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2021 highlighting that corruption levels remained at standstill worldwide. The report evaluates 180 countries and territories with their perceived level of public sector corruption with a scale of zero (rated as highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). However, the report has not recorded any visible change in the global perception index for the tenth-year in a row with a rating of two-thirds of countries below 50.
The global highlights of the report indicate that more than two-thirds of countries (68%) scores below 50 and the average global score remains stagnant at 43. It further highlights that 25 countries have improved their scores whereas 23 countries significantly declined. The report while discussing democracy, noted that the countries known as the most democratic countries and claim to be champions in the anti-corruption efforts around the world are deteriorating. However, the report pointed out that most of the countries with high scores remained safe havens for corrupt individuals abroad.
The region-wise ranking shows that Western Europe & European Union ranked as high scoring region with an overall score of 66, Asia Pacific 45, Americas 43, Middle East & North Africa 39, Eastern Europe & Central Asia 36, whereas Sub-Saharan Africa is ranked as the lowest region with an overall score of 33 respectively.
The region-wise comparison shows that the Americas have had no progress in the last three years with the same score of 43, whereas Asia pacific showed improvement in curtailing petty corruption whereas the issue of grand corruption could not be addressed therefore, the average score stalled at 45 out of 100 for the third consecutive year. Eastern Europe and Central Asia is still the second-lowest performance region. The Middle East and North Africa maintained their score of 39 for the fourth consecutive year. However, the region is trying to achieve the desired results to curtail corruption. However, the political misconduct and private interests are overtaking common interests and this region is already devastated by various conflicts. The interesting facts highlighted in the report by quoting the Sub-Saharan region, which ranked as the most corrupt region showed no improvement from the previous year. However, despite their poor performance overall, 44 out of 49 countries still score below fifty. The Corruption Perception Index notes that progress to eradicate corruption in recent years has flatlined.
While ranking the countries individually, the Corruption Perception Index ranked Denmark, Finland, and New Zealand as the cleanest countries with an overall score of 88 each. However, South Sudan, Syria, and Somalia are listed at the bottom of the index. As per the report, countries experiencing armed conflicts or authoritarianism tend to earn the lowest scores such as Venezuela, Yemen, North Korea, Afghanistan, Libya, Equatorial, Guinea, and Turkmenistan.
The report shows that from 2012 to 2021, twenty-five countries improved their control to counter corruption whereas 23 countries’ scores declined. The status of 131 countries remained the same. It further states that control of corruption has stagnated or worsened worldwide over the last decade.
CPI also lowered Pakistan’s overall score from 31 to 28 due to absence of Rule of Law and State Capture and downgraded its ranking from 124/180 (2020) to 140/180. This is a huge setback to the narrative of incumbent Prime Minister as his entire politics is based on this single issue. This report not only damages his credibility but also exposes his governance style and ranked his government as the most corrupt government of the era. An overview of the ranking assigned to Pakistan in the last two decades including the tenure of General Pervez Musharraf, a decade-old military-dominated era, Pakistan People Party Government under Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) tenure and current three years of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI), under the leadership of Imran Khan. Pakistan got the worst ranking. The country witnessed corruption for the third consecutive year, sliding 16 places to rank 140 as compared to previous year which was ranked as 124. However, in the previous tenure of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) corruption perception index noted significant improvement and ranked Pakistan 117/180.
Now, what are the root causes of failure in improving our control to eradicate corruption? In its manifesto, PTI promised the nation that it would ensure full autonomy for, and build the capacity of, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and other accountability institutions and pursue all major corruption scandals regardless of political affiliation. PTI has been criticizing the previous governments accusing them of intentionally stifling accountability institutions to create an environment in which corruption by the ruling elite was concealed rather than aggressively pursued. PTI also promised to review the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999 to strengthen its independence and appointment process of the chairperson, supporting the head of NAB in conducting organizational reforms, addressing legal gaps in the accountability laws including review of voluntary return and plea bargain. It also promised to provide support to NAB to track key performance indicators to boost performance, transparency, and corruption score including the number of references, duration of prosecution, spending versus recovery ratio.
However, in these three and half years in office, the focus of Imran Khan remained on alleged political victimization and selective accountability with the sole purpose to strengthen his power base. The promise of giving independence to NAB to ensure transparency could not materialize and it became the most controversial institution of Pakistan. Even the Supreme Court held that NAB was deliberately used for political engineering.
The promise of introducing reforms remained in the books. Before coming to power, Imran Khan mentioned at various international forums that Pakistan lacked skilled professionals to investigate white-collar crimes. However, after taking charge of the government, he introduced no measures to control corruption/white-collar crimes. Though the government recommended changes in the NAB Ordinance, but these were criticized in the media and legal experts termed them “as an act of saving own skin”.
As per its promise, the government was supposed to maintain transparency, introduce reforms to improve understanding of law enforcement agencies about transnational dimensions of corruption, train them regarding intelligence collection, develop a mechanism to engage public-private sectors for information sharing, enhance their resources and apply beneficial ownership rule but nothing concrete was done. Moreover, Pakistan also needed to introduce specific regulations regarding high-risk businesses used to hide illicit cash or to launder criminal proceeds. Will of the government, law enforcement agencies and the judiciary is required for holding corrupt elements accountable by maintaining transparency and extending the right of fair trial envisaged in Article 10A of the Constitution.
Accountability should be across the board irrespective of political affiliation. Transparency International has downgraded Pakistan in the last three years due to various corruption scandals linked with cabinet members of the Prime Minister. It is time for the Prime Minister to honour his promise and initiate the process of accountability by holding accountable those involved in the sugar crisis, wheat shortage, medical scandals, ring road scandal, BRT scandal, Tosha Khana scandal (linked to Prime Minister), allowing the sale of subsidized wheat for the poultry sector and the list goes on.
Pakistan’s evaluation by Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is approaching. In the recent past, we have witnessed two major developments that can impact our assessment by FATF. Recently Federal Investigation Authority uncovered a fraud of US$ 100 million admitting potential money laundering through cryptocurrency. The way cryptocurrency is being handled in Pakistan invites a lot of risks. The watchdogs might end up revising our earlier assigned rating to recommendations 15 and 23. Moreover, the current transparency ranking which further downgraded Pakistan may invite attention of the FATF members to revisit compliance level of recommendations 12, 22, and 36 as majority of the scandals highlighted in the media pertains to politically exposed persons, including Imran Khan.
It is time for Pakistan to streamline its affairs to devise a system to eradicate corruption and other white-collar crimes. Selective accountability is promoting corruption and draining our economy. We should refocus on the independence of our institutions; ensure uniform application of laws, and implement robust and effective controls to improve our global image.
Huzaima Bukhari, Advocate High Court & Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), is member Advisory Board and Visiting Senior Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE). Abdul Rauf Shakoori is a corporate lawyer based in the USA and an expert in ‘White Collar Crimes and Sanctions Compliance’. They have recently coauthored a book, Pakistan Tackling FATF: Challenges and Solutions, with Dr. Ikramul Haq