Corruption is a middle-class morality

While millions of Pakistanis expressed their astonishment and dissatisfaction with the election of Raja Pervez Ashraf as the Prime Minister of Pakistan on 22 June 2012, the news didn’t come to me as a shock at all. Raja Pervez Ashraf has been criticised as a symbol of corruption and bad governance. The new Prime Minister has been widely labelled in the media as “Raja Rental” because of the kickbacks he is alleged to have taken being the water and power minister. An investigation by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is still in progress against him.

Historically, Ayub Khan disqualified politicians who were later rehabilitated. Ghulam Ishaq Khan declared Asif Ali Zardari as the most corrupt man in one of his speeches and a few years later swore him in as a minister. Nawaz Sharif was charged with cases of loan defaults and tax evasion but returned to power. None of the political parties challenged the election of Asif Ali Zardari as the President knowing his past record. There are many more examples.

More recently, with the thrust of “corruption allegations” in the political battlefield involving the next generation of politicians - as witnessed in the Ephedrine case against Ali Musa Gilani (son of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani) and a parallel score settlement with accusations of bribery against Arsalan Chaudhry (son of Chief Justice Muhammad Iftikhar Chaudhry) - were we really naive enough to be expecting election of a candidate far removed from the attributes of Raja Pervez Ashraf?

I sometimes wonder that if “all institutions are prone to corruption and to the vices of their members” (even the religious institutions that claim to be upholding the moral code provided by God) then why do we constantly beat the corruption drum outside the government doors? At present, the corruption of the high-profile politicians and their associates seems to be in much more focus, but does it alleviate the burden from lower level corruption that encompasses voting and approaching the same individuals for illegal favours?

It is time we internalise that corruption and nepotism are now accepted as a middle-class morality in Pakistan and are deeply entrenched at all levels of society and class hierarchy. Not being rich in Pakistan is now a symbol of lack of opportunity rather than morality.

Hence, sloganeering against corruption of the politicians in the social media and other avenues is not likely to achieve the objective of Pakistan’s success. By doing so we are in fact creating more obstacles that are likely to pose an even bigger loss to the economy by delaying decisions on significant development and commercial issues. The recent political victimisation game of the parties in the court of law has not achieved anything except unsettling the “democratic” process and causing a further delay in matters of socio-economic significance.

It is a cliché that elimination of corruption will set Pakistan on a path to prosperity. Rather, we need to focus on the process of wealth creation by taking progressive decision on economic development and commercial issues. Political sloganeering on corruption and perhaps a wrong diagnosis of the problem has resulted in the wrong action plan. It is not possible to eliminate corruption within 90 days as a Prime Minister as claimed by Imran Khan through an imposition of administrative and judicial measures (except maybe in a few high profile cases). However, with development of economic policies as a focal point, average incomes and living standards may rise, that can certainly take us in the right direction.

By: Sana Hameed Baba