Can Imran Khan end corruption?

Imran Khan, December 2007

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Imran Khan has lately addressed large public gatherings in Gujranwala and Faisalabad. He has made tall claims about bringing an end to corruption if he comes to power. However, for the last more than a decade, since he entered active politics, he has not revealed his programme for bringing an end to corruption. Does he think that by changing a face at the top corruption will wither away from Pakistan? Imran Khan owes us many answers before he can lure us to support his bid for the top slot in the country.

Corruption in Pakistan exists in numerous forms. First there is corruption of government functionaries, now joined by politicians for extorting money from people for providing them services they are entitled to receive without any direct compensation. This includes things like getting a power connection, gas connection, correct electricity bill, registering FIR in the police station etc. Then there is corruption in handing out jobs, permits, quotas, loans, and services to people who do not deserve them on merit. These two types of corruption have become a way of life in Pakistan. Both these forms of corruption are based on extortion.

Origin of this extortion can be traced back to medieval form of tax collection. In medieval times Kings gave authority to local warlords to collect tax in kind. This was in essence a security tax. This form of taxation was arbitrary, regressive and discriminatory. It took advantage of the poor and vulnerable and punished non payers with loss of property, honour and life. This practice created a brutal mindset among the collectors and a submissive mindset among the payers. Tax payers used to willingly pay their share to the collectors in the form of tribute as well. This mindset cannot be changed with the change of rules, law or government. It requires change in practices by opponents of corruption. In corruption infested South Asia it has only been done by the Chief Minister of Karnataka who returned to office for several terms due to his successful venture against corruption.

Chief Minister of Karnataka distributed laptops among all the conventional petition writers in his state and connected them through internet to the complaint office in the Chief Minister’s House. Any citizen could send his complaint through these petition writers to the Chief Minister. The Chief Minister used to randomly pick complaints from the entry register and called relevant Deputy Commissioner to take action on the reported complaint. He would follow up on all these calls after a few days. In the course of next few years he changed the whole complaint redressal culture and dealt a severe blow to the corruption ridden offices. Without engaging people and harnessing their power this would have not been possible. Any party interested in routing out corruption would have to engage in similar practice even when it is out of power. To make people believe that a Messiah with his magic touch would end corruption after coming to power is nothing more than handing them a political lollipop.

Modern high level form of corruption exists in the form of kick backs and commissions paid by big businesses to receive hefty contracts from the government officials and politicians. This has become the norm of Global corporate business. In addition to business contracts, loans from international lending institutions also have hidden forms of bribing the financial decision makers. This form of corruption requires responses ranging from policy reforms, and change in business practices to innovative programmes for reforming the corrupt mindset. Coming to power is neither necessary nor sufficient condition for ending corruption. Inclusive and transparent decision making on business deals made by the government is an essential prerequisite to end this form of corruption. A related policy decision would be to reduce the size of public sector and pursue trade based development instead of aid based development. However, this would require careful policy reforms so that social responsibilities of the state to the poor and downtrodden are not abandoned in the name of privatization.

Even in a country like India with a strong democratic set up, a broad network of grass-roots level institutions and numerous movements for justice, human rights and social equality corruption is deep-rooted. The fight against corruption has taken many forms and routes and continues with small successes here and there. It has still a long way to go. Level of effectiveness and scale and range of activities of citizens’ groups fighting corruption determines the extent of success against corruption. Corruption cannot be eliminated with rhetoric. It is a serious business and requires a very well thought out programme and implementation strategy. In the absence of such a programme Mr. Khan will end up as a new entrant in the Short Cut Prime Minister’s Hall of Fame in Pakistan.

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