Thursday, 09 December 2010

On the Anniversary of the UN's International Anti-corruption Day, Corruption Flourishes, Even at the UN

Written by  Malik Ayub Sumbal

The Pakistani government and the public seem to be trying their best to achieve the top ranking amongst the most corrupt countries of the world. According to 2010 perception survey conducted by the Transparency International, Pakistan stands as the seventh most corrupt of the Asian Pacific countries and as the 34th most corrupt country in the world.

According to the Transparency International report, the top most corrupt departments — from most corrupt to least corrupt — are the Police Department, Power, Land Administration, Education, Local Government, Judiciary, Health, Taxation, Customs, Tendering and Contracting.

Today is International Anti-corruption day, the day on which nations pledge to stamp out corruption. On October 31, 2003, the UN General Assembly designated December 9 as International Anti-corruption Day. This decision was taken in order to raise awareness of corruption and of the role of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in combating and preventing it. With reports that governments of the former Soviet bloc are almost indistinguishable from mobster crime organizations and the release by Wikileaks of the fact that the U.S. government bribed and bullied small countries over climate-change legislation and of the indiscretions of diplomats and politicians worldwide, it is not apparent that the UN's anti-corruption crusade has been at all effective. Ironically, a much-ballyhooed effort by the UN to police its own corruption, launched after revelations about the UN's Oil-for-Food scandal, was ended by the UN last year. ABC News recapped the Oil-for-Food scandal in its article "AP Impact: UN Cuts Back on Investigating Fraud": "The world body was rocked in the past decade when more than 2,200 companies from some 40 countries colluded with Saddam Hussein's regime to bilk $1.8 billion from a U.N.-administered oil-for-food program for Iraqi humanitarian relief."

In the same January 2010 article, ABC makes clear that fraud at the UN continues in full force, uninvestigated:

Over the past year, not a single significant fraud or corruption case has been completed, compared with an average 150 cases a year investigated by the task force. The permanent investigation division decided not to even pursue about 95 cases left over when the task force ceased operation, while another 80 unfinished cases have languished.

It also stopped probes into contractors and cut qualified staff and other resources — and halted five major corruption investigations documented by the task force in the final days of 2008.

The UN even dropped cases where fraud was as much as $1,000,000 a day. ABC News continued:

Nothing has come of a task force report completed in December 2008 that found $1 million a day flowing out of a safe in a U.N. project office in Kabul — part of $850 million intended for Afghanistan's rebuilding and elections between 2002 and 2006....

Task force staff ran out of time before they could complete two more investigations on Afghanistan. One involved evidence that a U.S. firm padded its charges by $1 million and the other that U.N. staff diverted millions of dollars from Afghan elections, roads, schools and hospitals, according to U.N. documents and officials.

And the UN corruption goes on and on.

Transparency International (TI), which compiled the corruption report, is the global civil society leading the fight against corruption. Through more than 90 chapters worldwide and an international secretariat in Berlin, TI raises awareness of the damaging effects of corruption and works with partners in government, business, and civil society to develop and implement effective measures to tackle it. TI tackles corruption on a project by project basis, and does not attempt to wipe out corruption in one major swoop or single out individuals as corrupt.

Nevertheless, in Pakistan, the present ruling political party, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), rejected the TI's report and called it a huge blunder and a conspiracy to destabilize the present democratic government set up in Pakistan. After the publication of this perception report by TI, the Interior Minister of Pakistan, Rehman Malik, said: "Transparency International is a detective agency, and the organization will not be allowed to work in Pakistan," basically admitting the culpability of government officials.

With all of Pakistan's advantages — encompassing the sixth largest land mass and having great geopolitical importance, God-gifted resources, and an ideal climate comprising on all four seasons — and its relative development — being a nuclear power, having the seventh largest standing armed force in the world, having the world's largest deep seaport (Gawadar), laying claim to the world's oldest civilization (Indus Valley and Mohenjo-Daro), and owning the second largest salt mine of the world — Pakistan would seem to be a country that should not be corrupt.

Also arguing against the logic of Pakistan being corrupt, it has a modern democratic form: Pakistan as an independent state came on the world map on August 14, 1947. The country comprises four provinces, namely Punjab, Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and Balochistan. Its capital is the city of Islamabad, located in the Punjab province. Each province is divided into administrative divisions, and each division into districts, tehsils (this is an administrative division of some countries of South Asia, generally consisting of a city or town that serves as its headquarters), villages, and Union Councils; there are 28 divisions, 106 districts, 376 tehsils, 46,144 villages, and 4,147 Union Councils in the country.

Maybe, as Americans are learning firsthand as the U.S. federal government grows to mammoth size and scope and Americans lose jobs, freedoms, and dignity at the hands of their government officials, America's founders such as Samuel Adams were correct in their assessment when they warned that democracies always implode from corruption: "Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself." Many of America's founders spoke against democracy as a form of government; none spoke in favor of it. They created a Republic — which has degenerated into a democracy.

Regardless of the cause of the corruption, the opposition parties and the media in Pakistan have plenty of chances to point out corruption. American influences and donations in Pakistan are also coming under scrutiny. According to the opposition parties, the United States' Kerry-Lugar bill, which authorizes "appropriations for fiscal years 2010 through 2014 to promote an enhanced strategic partnership with Pakistan and its people, and for other purposes," virtually guarantees embezzlement in its utilization. This bill grants Pakistan $1.5 billion annually for five years to support such things as police, schools, agriculture, roads, etc. In the Kerry-Lugar bill, maximum funding to Pakistan would be expected to be dispersed through NGOs (non-governmental organizations), and in Pakistan the majority of the NGOs are being registered by influential people. Those registering NGOs are associated with the government, or they have an association with the serving political regime. The government banned the registration of new NGOs just after the announcement of the Kerry-Lugar bill, but still those people who are favorites of the government are registering their NGOs and back-dating the registration dates with the cooperation of the Ministry of the Social Welfare.

One critic of the fraud in dispensing Kerry-Lugar funds said: "There are NGO proprietors who were riding on bicycles in the past, and now own more than one vehicle such as Honda Accord and Pajero [or] Land Cruiser at their homes. Those who had pennies in their pockets until yesterday now having accounts in millions of dollar, what to say of accounts in rupees.... [They] now have their meals in five-star hotels."

Another statement given by a government official said: After a thorough probe, we've found that "the deserving people get a very small amount.... While on the other hand, NGOs get huge amounts on the recommendations of Ministers or influential people. The proverb for such NGOs is 'gold attracts the gold.' What are these NGOs doing? Nothing! But plundering money. The amount which is plundered in the name of women's welfare has no comparison in the history.... If these NGOs had implemented the programs according to their constitutions, then unlike today, [the] condition of the poor women [would be] different."

While governing elites commit fraud and embezzle funds, Pakistan is facing a number of challenges and crises, including a power and food crisis. And the government is demanding more and more taxes from the public, and they are crushed under this burden.

To top it all off, the worsening law-and-order situation and increasing number of terrorist incidents proves to the people the failure of the present government, and there is a general perception in the public and media that the country is headed towards a bankrupt state.

Malik Ayub Sumbal is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Photo: AP Images