The Corruptors

When posterity evaluates the merits and de-merits of the Musharraf era, it will record that one of its better achievements was the establishment of the “National Accountability Bureau” (NAB), giving it at the outset virtually a free hand to go after those who had looted public money of (including a huge amount of un-repaid loans from nationalized financial institutions). Despite the fact that NAB was still in the initial mobilization stage the results were spectacular in the first year. Today, when more than four years have elapsed, corruption convictions are still being successfully prosecuted in the courts of law, however the initial enthusiasm has somewhat dissipated with the passage of time and change of personnel. The fervour dampened even further after the democratic government assumed power in late 2002.

The main targets NAB has ostensibly gone after are, viz (1) corrupt public servants, i.e. politicians and bureaucrats and (2) businessmen who have not returned loans which they should have. Nobody leaves incriminating evidence lying around, when NAB could not acquire adequate evidence against politicians and bureaucrats, they went on “fishing” trips based on bad reputations. NAB concentrated on the business community for repayment of loans for immediate success. In the long run this reaction thereof was counter-productive. While quite a few outstanding loans were repaid and/or were re-scheduled, the hue and cry raised by the industrialists and businessmen that NAB’s investigations were hampering entrepreneurship in an economic environment that needed fresh enterprise, deterred NAB for going further down this line. The country’s economic managers, keen to get the economy kick-started, sided with the contention of big business and pressurized NAB to tread softly. This easing of pressure was the first factor that compromised an excellent accountability process. Many of the loans were taken from nationalized commercial banks (NCBs) because of influence and patronage and very few were having the cover of adequate (or even any) collateral. Some were never meant to be repaid in the first place. This non-repayment culture became a part and parcel of the Pakistani commercial and industrial society, the main sufferers being NCBs.

The advent of plea-bargaining not only badly compromised the accountability process, it was a moral disaster and should never have been implemented. A simple analogy would be that of a dacoit returning the proceeds of his loot (or part thereof) if he was caught, what a precedent for the future! NAB’s reputation has been tarnished also by the perception of selective accountability. NAB points to a dozen or so cases against ex-servicemen, this fails to satisfy critics who contend that NAB has a soft-pedal approach towards the Armed Forces, the Judiciary and the Police. It is true that the nature of white-collar crime turns up little in evidence unless hidden bank accounts and lockers come to light. Very correctly NAB turned to “living beyond means” as an approach to nab the guilty, an amendment to the NAB law was enacted and extensively used but mainly against civil servants. This is patently unfair, the law must be applied equitably to all and sundry.

BCCI is in the news again, a dozen years after the event the auditors for the liquidation are blaming the Bank of England (BOE)for not having blown the whistle earlier to 1991 when the bank collapsed on being taken over. BCCI was a wonderful bank, with tremendous potential and a gaggle of brilliant Pakistani bankers. However a small handful of executives had made the corrupting of people into an art, siphoning of money was an easy next step, same “special” BCCI executives simply had a penchant for conducting “business”. They “arranged” things, starting with being highly paid pimps. Their purpose in life was to bribe government officials, the judiciary, police officials, white collar crime-investigators, anyone posing a threat to their multi-faceted “transactions”. When BCCI collapsed a number of them were incarcerated in various countries for various reasons, many got clean away and live to cheat and fraud as privileged members of our society today.

Many years ago the modus operandi to corrupt civil servants was subtle and indirect, one favourite method bring to let them win big at cards e.g. bridge, flush or poker. Another method was to give expensive gifts on occasions, in a reported case the gifts received by the daughter of one Federal Secretary for her marriage included several cars, airconditioners, refrigerators, furniture, hard-woven, carpets, etc. The weakness of the individual was exploited, it being easy if the person is susceptible to whisky and women. NAB (and other such) officials must be careful of “Greeks bearing gifts”, they simply have to become anti-social. The “hosts” who maintain an “open house” in the Federal and Provincial Capitals eventually make their guests pay million times over for those free drinks they dish out like water. There is nothing in this world like a free junket or free drinks!

These so-called “bankers” should have learnt their lessons but the leopard never changes its spots. Having spent most of the 90s in person or in the cold, they bided their time and gradually re-acquired positions of some influence. Now they are in action again as if they carry no baggage from yesterday. On the surface they act ostensibly on behalf of the institutions and the patrons they are employees of, 90% of the time they are using their patron’s money (and influence) for their own benefit. By a series of “goodwill” measures they now exert considerable influence in the corridors of power for their own profit. Naming names would be unfair to some of the recipients (of the largesse) as they are oblivious and innocent of the motives of the generous “donors”.

Understanding human frailties and the need for individuals and/or groups to get their way from whichever government is in power without breaking the law, developed countries require lobbyists to be registered. In Washington DC, the paid lobbyists are mainly based on the famous K Street, their motive for lobbying is well known and acceptable for good governance. What do we know about the paid lobbyist/s in Pakistan? People in this country who try to influence their government do so out of crass motivation of profit and are paid for it. A public official may be influenced (and then corrupted) without knowing that the person influence him (or her) is benefiting financially for it. For Pakistan it is extremely necessary to register the lobbyists so that we know them officially, the “corruptors” should not easily exercise influence at the apex of power.

The enthusiasm and energy thereof for accountability displayed by every new regime wanes as matters settle into routine, eventually like water finding it’s course, the “corruptors” discover what makes the concerned official/s tick and then go to work on them with a vengeance. Sometimes the only target may not be the Head of the organization but for good measure his personal secretary and driver (and even operator if need be). The very same people who came with a missionary zeal to root out corruption have in many cases become the protectors of those they had come to target in the first place. The “corruptors” ingratitiate themselves with every successive administration, becoming indispensable with the passage of time. For starters why not enquire into the credentials of those who are trying to be generous to NAB officials for no apparent reason? Would they give them the time of the day if they were not in NAB? All lobbyists are not bad, for the “corruptors” with a specialized lobbying skill to exploit what most of us are easily susceptible to, for the “corruptors” it is routine modus operandi. NAB has to work overtime to identify “the corruptors” by tracking why they are being so “generous” and root them out from our society. The BCCI model needs to be studied if NAB is really serious about wanting to nip this evil in the bud.