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Curse of Corruption
pakalert | November 7, 2008 at 11:32 pmby
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THE not-so-new rulers in Islamabad are at pains to stress that what they seek above all from the international community is investment, not simply assistance. While this sentiment is admirable on face value, it goes without saying that the begging bowl will be Pakistan’s unwanted image accessory for the time being. Pakistan is begging; let’s be forthcoming about that for there is nothing wrong with admitting that the situation is beyond our control. Our ‘friends’, and more likely the IMF, will have to come to our rescue. What is more troubling, however, is that Pakistan’s full potential as a favourable investment destination may never be realised until corruption is checked and there is greater transparency at all levels of governance.Take our bureaucracy and the political set-up in which backhanders rule. What we get as a result of this corruption is fly-by-night operators interested in the quick buck that can only be made while the current culture lasts. Reputable investors in for the long haul look twice at a country where graft is an accepted overhead and there is no assurance of continuity of policy. And where the ethical grounding of the most powerful in the land is open to question. For the risk-averse, Pakistan is not the preferred option.It is a moot point whether the current administration is more susceptible to corruption than those that preceded it. The reason why investors are keeping a safe distance even when property prices are at rock bottom, and when the government is bound to bend over backwards to offer tax holidays and other incentives, has more to do with the global liquidity crunch and the security situation in Pakistan. But image does matter, especially at crunch times. What is known, beyond a shadow of doubt, is that Pakistan has consistently featured as one of the headline acts in corruption indices going back several years. Little wonder then that a top Microsoft official in Pakistan said on Thursday, ‘We wanted to invest as much in Pakistan as we did in India but our propositions never made it past bureaucrats and politicians who wanted their cut.’ This, sadly, is a complaint heard often from firms not wishing to engage in dishonest business practices. The deeply entrenched culture of corruption cannot be eradicated overnight at all levels of society. For our collective sake, however, a beginning can be made by ensuring a transparent, one-window facility for foreign and local investors.