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Archive for February, 2000

The Effect of Nepotism

Corruption is the main side-effect of nepotism. The moment we negate merit as the only touchstone for selection, the seeds of corruption are well and truly sown. In developed countries democracy ensures selection, appointment and/or advancement on the basis of merit. Unfortunately the worst form of nepotism was practiced by our so-called “democrats” when in power. Democracy is meant to ensure that merit alone is the arbiter of success but our “democracy” was not accountable and when a system is not accountable it is to be expected that patronage will be rampant on a wide-scale. Because of this lack of accountability in Third World countries the situation is perverse, democracies tend to reward favourites, that in turn makes the system tailor-made for corruption. When any authoritarian rule substitutes democracy, the major reason usually given is to stamp out the nepotism and corruption. In the initial euphoria of correcting wrongs, an authoritarian system does fall back on merit. Only when things settle in place the client-patron relationship takes over and things go back to being far worse than in any democracy.

How have the institutions of this country been corrupted? Mainly by installing favourites without merit, in decision-making positions. Those unworthy of selection then proceed to run riot in the institutions at all levels, bending the rules to accommodate their favourites in turn, in time the whole institution becomes rotten to the core. Lacking ability or management capacity, those without merit have as their primary aim and function the lining of their own pockets and/or living high at the expense of the institutions. Obviously this cannot be done without ensuring the appointment of hand-picked cronies in key decision-making slots. A cycle of nepotism is created which deepens the corruption psyche. Even if the person appointed without merit is not corrupt, which happens from time to time, the lack of efficiency, knowledge, experience, managerial capacity, etc encourages others down the line to indulge in corruption, secure in the knowledge that ignorance and incompetence of their superiors will prevent any discovery, a built-in inferiority complex preventing those in power from exercising their authority as it should be used.

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Corruption in arms trade

While commissions are a part of business transactions, bribes and kickbacks have been a common occurrence. Commissions are legitimate per se and do not constitute any illegality but when excessive they have been mostly used to influence the sales or purchases with bribes and kickbacks to the representatives of the purchasing agency, politicians or government officials who could be in a position to influence both sales and purchase thereof, they are illegal. Over the years commissions paid out in the arms trade have gained notoriety. In the late years of the nineteenth century some conflicts were conveniently arranged by the manufacturers such as Vickers and Krupp to boost their sales (remember arms merchant Basil Zaharoff). At the height of the Cold War, large outlays were set aside in the “free world” for defence purchases, most of it unrelated to the fight against communism. To influence the sales of defence equipment, large commissions (direct translation “bribes”) were paid, mostly to tin-pot dictators, absolute monarchs, etc. With the Soviet Union fading out as a Superpower in the 80s, the need to shore up autocratic regimes lessened dramatically and commissions paid out to middlemen, became more known to the public at large. Morality replaced pragmatism. Military machines like the Shah of Iran’s fed the ruler’s megalomania and kept the population under control but all this cost a great deal of the oil money available, a sizeable percentage disappearing as bribes into numbered accounts of the Shah’s relatives, cronies, etc. Equipment was marked up by as much as 100% or even more, helping to maintain a very opulent lifestyle. A number of sensational disclosures in the late years of the last century and public outcry of the divergence of a sizeable portion of funds from the exchequer have brought corruption in arms trade into focus as an aberration to be brought under control.

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Perjury

A few weeks ago I sat and watched in increasing frustration and disgust as two executives of a semi-government corporation lied through their teeth while giving evidence under oath. Almost every sentence of their affidavits was a lie, answers to every question was a blatant untruth. Even though this was before one of the best judges ever produced by the judiciary in Pakistan, one could see why the judiciary seems to have become helpless to prevent perjury. The case being sub-judice, one cannot ethically take names, however one can understand the reason why accountability is so difficult in a country where almost all statements or cross-examinations under oath are badly tainted. For personal gain, whether monetary or otherwise, false representation of facts and distortions, a gentlemanly phrase for “outright lies”, is the order of the day. Vested interest wants to keep the real facts concealed, invariably it is they who volunteer to become witnesses in any enquiry or trial. They manage to disfigure the truth in so brazenfaced and bold a manner that law enforcers do not have the courage to intercede and take action against them. That is why corruption has flourished, these old hands creating a wall of lies, impossible for the investigators to penetrate. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is up against it in their search for those who have looted the wealth of this nation, whether from government departments or government or semi-government corporations, etc. To quote Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet, “at lover’s perjuries, they say even Jove laughs”. That may be the prerogative of lovers in a romance, in the real-life of a nation on its economic knees false evidence under oath is an incurable cancer that eats at the heart of our society, the deriving of individual benefit at the cost of the national exchequer, a worthwhile pasttime frustrating pursuit of the concept of collective gain. The Oxford Dictionary very correctly gives the meaning of perjury as “an act of wilfully telling an untruth when on oath”, and goes on to use the words, “lying, mendacity, mendaciousness, falsification, deception, untruthfulness, dishonesty, duplicity”. In simple terms, a perjurer is a criminal.

In most countries, perjury carries exemplary punishment, ruthless enough for people to try and avoid giving a statement under oath lest that statement (or part thereof) be detected to be false. The system is so credible that depositions under oath save the time of the courts in long-drawn out examination of witnesses. Automatic and severe punishment acts as a deterrent of sorts, a search of the legal history all over the developed world will show that because of repeated convictions due to perjury, the drop in corruption has been commensurate with that of perjury. The situation is readymade for malfeasance as in Pakistan today where every enquiry, every investigation, every trial, every arbitration, reeks of rampant falsification with absolute impunity, whether it is statements before the Oath Commissioner, particularly in the matter of real estate, as paid (or motivated) witnesses in any trial before the court etc. Part of the problem is that the judiciary acts only on the evidence on record, giving judgment on the basis of the statute books without relevance to the integrity of the evidence being presented before them. In a jury system the judge controls the courtroom keeping the flow of facts reasonably credible, giving rulings based on the law books and precedence, giving directions to the jury as a summary of the evidence presented. The twelve jurists on the panel then consult among themselves before arriving on a finding, Whereas it is quite possible to give false evidence, the body language of the witness while giving answers to questions as seen by 12 pairs of eyes makes it that much more difficult. The literacy level being low in Pakistan, the jury system is not considered a feasible proposition, somewhat of a strange stance in face of the age-old concept of the Panchayat.

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Davos in the New Millennium

A white DAVOS sets the tone every year for the Annual Summit of the World Economic Forum (WEF). As the world’s leaders in academics, media, business, politics, etc gather in this snowy ski resort, a hushed anticipation sweeps away the feeling of dejavu one would normally feel for such a recurring event. Regular members of the WEF aside; the change from previous years is only among the leaders who govern the countries. In 1992 and 1998 Mian Nawaz Sharif represented Pakistan, in 1994 Ms Benazir Bhutto did. Mian Sahib’s visit to Davos in 1999 was cancelled, mainly because of the inability of WEF to arrange preferred accommodation in the Belvedere for the whole entourage and an appearance at short notice in any Plenary Session of the Summit. This year two regular Members of the WEF in their own right, Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz and Chairman of the Privatisation Commission, Altaf Saleem, along with a couple of other prominent businessmen represented Pakistan. A vast improvement on the motley crowd our PMs used to fill their entourage with, stretched limousines included.

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