It is worthwhile to remember that as governor-general, Mr Jinnah dismissed the government of Sindh on charges of corruption almost immediately after the creation of Pakistan. However none of the members of that government were charged, tried and convicted of any crimes or faced a jail term
A former mayor of Newark, New Jersey was recently convicted of ‘corruption’ and now faces years of jail-time. Newark is the city where I worked for twenty-five years as a physician. I moved to New Jersey in 1977 which is when ‘Abscam’ was introduced, an FBI sting operation to net corrupt politicians.
New Jersey is notorious for corrupt politicians. Mayors, members of city governments, county executives, state and federal legislators, and of course US senators. What however is important is that even though venality is sadly a universal human trait, at least during my years in New Jersey, more often than not, the most corrupt of these politicians were brought to justice.
We in the sub-continent have had more than our share of this universal venality, it seems. It is worthwhile to remember that as governor-general, Mr Jinnah dismissed the government of Sindh on charges of corruption almost immediately after the creation of Pakistan. However none of the members of that government were charged, tried and convicted of any crimes or faced a jail term.
The first confrontation in our history between the executive and the parliament started when the parliament tried to do away with something called PRODA (a law that allowed the executive to disqualify corrupt politicians from contesting elections). The governor-general responded by dismissing the constituent assembly. Later on, when the first military government took over, much was made about corrupt politicians, EBDO and all.
The little respect I have for General Zia-ul Haq is because he did not use corruption as an excuse for brutalising those he did not like. He did what he wanted to do and never tried to justify his actions. His actions were evidently between him and his Maker, and his Maker took care of him. After him came the decade that can be called the ‘decade of corruption’. Governments changed every few years and charges of corruption flew around like (the now missing) kites during Basant in Lahore.
I have often pondered on who exactly pays for elections in Pakistan. Looking at the US elections, and the way they are going, just the presidential election will consume close to a billion dollars by Election Day this year. And, if we put in the senate, congressional and state elections, the total will easily approach the annual budget of a third world country.
In Pakistan such expenditures are beyond the limits of possibility but still a considerable amount of money is spent to contest an election. To the best of my knowledge, political parties or the government do not put up any money for the election campaigns. The election commission has some pre-decided upper limit for campaign expenditure but I am sure that just the hoardings and banners put up by one of the candidates in my area exceeded that limit.
Therefore it would seem that only the already rich or else those that expect to get rich are likely to contest elections. Here, an aside. Feudals and feudalism are blamed for many ills that confront Pakistan today, but historically, it was the feudals that had the money to contest elections and that is why they are always well represented in most elected assemblies in Pakistani history. And yes, elected representatives first protect their own interests.
But back to corruption in politics. It is only when the ‘not rich’ get into politics that corruption ‘rears its ugly head’. The typical story goes: somebody wants to contest an election; he or she goes to family and friends and asks them to raise money. Everybody then pools their resources to fund the campaign. The expectation is that if the candidate wins and hopefully gets a ministry, the investment will be returned many times over.
But then, it is not only a question of making enough money to satisfy the sponsors; once elected, the candidate has to make enough money to fund the next election. And more importantly if he (never a she!) ends up in jail, enough money has to salted away to care for the family in the style they have become accustomed to, to bribe those that need to be bribed and yet have enough left over to contest again. How much then is enough?
All politicians are obviously not corrupt. In the autumn of 1970 just before the elections, my friends and I were eating ‘takka tikki’ (it is takka tikki and not takka tin or katta kat or other such onomatopoeic nonsense, but that is a story for another day) at Abbot Road in Lahore. I looked up and saw a man walking down the street with placards hanging around his neck and shouting through a hand-held horn, “I am Habib Jalib, vote for me.” Of course he lost.
As long as there will be politics and politicians, there will be corruption. The most egregious of the corrupt should undeniably face the wrath of the law. As far as the rest are concerned it is the people that should decide their fate by voting them out of office if they so decide the next time around. That in a truly democratic system is how ‘accountability’ works.
Interestingly it seems that people do not really care about corruption as much as what their elected representatives do for them during their terms of office.
Syed Mansoor Hussain has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at email@example.com
Cortesy: Daily Times, 21/4/2008