Saturday, September 27, 2014

Corruption: comparison and consequences

Pakistanis love to ape America. What with the recent Valentine’s Day, Halloween and Mother’s Day celebrations. Would be so nice if America’s work ethic, punctuality, integrity, processes, legal recourse and fidelity to the state were also adopted. And most importantly what America does with corrupt members of government.


Recently former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife were found guilty of accepting gifts, totaling $160,000, from the owner of a nutritional supplement company in return for promoting his products while they were in office. The U.S. Justice Department said the "convictions should send a message that corruption in any form, at any level of government, will not be tolerated." The charges carry a potential 30-year jail sentence.


Compare the corruption in the richest nation on earth with that of one of the poorest. Say the word “Zardari” and the mind’s synonym is corruption. The return of the PPP to power in 2008 resulted in the government withdrawing his corruption cases, which were at the threshold of being successfully filed. Zardari had spent eight years in jail. He was saved by ascension to power which opened the doors to further acquisition. It is alleged that Zardari has £740 million in Swiss bank accounts as well as an over £4 million mansion in Surrey and a $2.5 million manor in Normandy. No objections can be raised if this incredible accumulation was legal. Prior to marriage to Benazir, Zardari was a man of modest means, with the cleverness to calculate the power of 10%.


That Zardari got away with this massive corruption actually changed the psyche of the Pakistani nation. He took the sting out of the concept of corruption, made it romantic almost, and horror of horrors Pakistanis became immune to its illegitimacy and started to justify their own at all levels-consciously and unconsciously.


Rod Blagojevich was Illinois governor from 2003-2009. In March 2012, Blagojevich began serving a 14-year sentence in federal prison following conviction for corruption including the soliciting of bribes for political appointments. He was charged with several “pay to play” schemes in which he sold gubernatorial and legislative appointments to the highest bidder. He was impeached in 2009. Blagojevich’s “pay to play” schemes sound so Pakistani! Though, one must say, that Pakistani leaders give out business contracts and massive commissions to family members and cronies and the nation pays while they play!


It’s that magical kursi of Pakistan that turns saints to satan. Military rule in Pakistan has seen the personal aggrandizement of the army. Promotions are sweetened by gifts of plots of land. In her book “Military Inc.” Ayesha Siddiqa writes that the army's private business assets are worth around £10bn and it owns a handsome share of the country's business and land.


Kwame Kilpatrick was mayor of Detroit from 2000-2008. In 2013 he was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison for extorting bribes from contractors who wanted Detroit city contracts. He steered $127 million in contracts to his friend and business partner, Bobby Ferguson. The city of Detroit is the first in the nation to file bankruptcy. U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds granted the 28-year term sought by prosecutors, who claimed Kilpatrick's racketeering, bribery and extortion worsened the city's financial crisis as part of a conspiracy that spent millions of taxpayer dollars. The sentence was intended to send a message that corruption would not be tolerated and "that way of business is over," Edmunds said.


The brothers Sharif and cronies’ corruption is as massive as Kilpatrick’s if not more. And for all intents and purposes Pakistan is bankrupt.


In a previous Sharif term, Salman Shahbaz imported a Siberian leopard and nurtured it in an air-conditioned cage. All while the students of Punjab studied in candlelight and numerous others died of gastroenteritis and dehydration, unable to even get potable water or basic medical care in hospitals.


True the Sharifs are businessmen. But doing business with taxpayer money is a bit egregious. Zardari at least kept the 10% commission premise to himself; the Sharifs have spread the goodness to members of the PML-N. And, keeping up with inflation, the commission on mega-government projects has risen to 30%. My fellow columnist Dr. Mansoor Hussain speaks of the Sharif “lifafa largesse”; envelopes stuffed with large bills are spread around to buy support and silence.


Pakistanis are treated, or tortured depending on your inclination, by the information or allegations in Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri’s speeches. PPP’s Aitzaz Ahsan states that their words have irretrievably entered the hearts and minds of Pakistanis.  He acknowledges electoral rigging as well as the charges of massive corruption. If only he would drop the Pakistani staple of covering over illegality for some devious future personal purpose, Pakistan would be delivered of this climate of deceit, collusion and subterfuge.


Religion and state should be separated. But Nawaz Sharif is of the inshallah, mashaallah and subhanallah genre, so I must appeal to his religiosity. You have the nerve to go to the flood stricken areas and promise government help. What of their money that you and your cronies stole to finance your luxurious lifestyles and more-expensive-than-Rolex watches?


Infrastructure to combat flooding takes years to build. But tax-payer money was used to finance your mini-city Raiwind residence and satisfy your gluttony for numerous varieties of nihari and mithai. Perhaps a serious study of the early period of Islam and the scrupulous integrity of the four khalifas and their selfless service to their people would be instructive.


The PTI and PAT sit-ins have cramped your lifestyle and your 30-strong delegations’ world trips to garner more lucrative contracts. You and your coterie pay miniscule if any tax and pillage our treasury to go for Umra, again with plane-loads of friends and family.


The foundation of democracy is integrity and transparency. Khalifa Umar ibn Al-Khattab had to justify his use of two sheets when questioned by a woman. He also said “do your own accounting before it is done for you”. If there is a question of electoral rigging, if there is evidence of corruption that has broken Pakistan, take the moral high road, resign and submit to impartial investigation. According to the Islam that you love to tout, we must be forgiven by those we have wronged before we can be forgiven by God. Help yourself and your extended family; submit yourselves to investigation. It will be infinitely easier to remediate in this world. And way too late and unimaginable in the next.