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Democracy and Corruption

Because of the lack of accountability, totalitarian rule creates an ideal breeding ground for corruption even though the risks may be greater. Why is it then that democracy, whose touchstone is accountability, a prey to rampant corruption, particularly in the developing world? As the third world rid itself of colonialism, quite a number of the “free world’s” leaders were military dictators/absolute monarchs who not only looted their country blind but revelled in it. The west mostly looked the other way, it being convenient to support them in the name of “democracy” and “freedom” in the fight against communism. Money laundering, evasion of taxes, flight of capital, etc very much frowned upon in the west, were all conveniently ignored. The 60s and early 70s saw leaders like the Shah of Iran, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Suharto of Indonesia, Mobuto of Zaire, etc as the darlings of the west, the leading edge of the cold war. As this era wound down in the 80s, these leaders became embarrassments for their former mentors. Their riches were deposited in banks in places as diverse as Switzerland, Luxembourg, Cayman Islands, Isle of Man etc, their real estate holdings and other investments spread all across the world through a myriad network of dummy corporations, off-shore companies, front-men, etc. The developed world had accountability because of a free media, systemized documentation and public knowledge because of the high percentage of literacy, this accountability was denied to new found “democracies” where demagogues and so-called populists held sway, misusing their mandate to make financial bonanzas while making their future bright, in some cases attempting to also make their past bright.

Among the worst cases at the present time are the Suhartos of Indonesia, everyone of the siblings is a billionaire in his/her own right while the country is bankrupt. However the Suhartos do not make such a pretense of democracy as do the leaders of South Asia. The Bofors scandal in India is an open-and-shut case against the late Rajiv Gandhi. One of the major reasons why Italian-born Sonia has abandoned her recluse-like existence and stepped into politics is to have a nuisance value to keep the Bofors case-file from going public. The son of late Bangladesh President Gen Ziaur Rahman is a slur on the known honesty of his father while former President Lt Gen HM Ershad is still a democratic force despite the fact that it is widely believed, even by his supporters and friends, that he diverted millions in public money for his own private use. Pakistan’s great democratic hope, Ms Benazir Bhutto, has been discovered to be a looter-extraordinary, glib rhetoric and smart remarks notwithstanding, courtesy mostly of her incarcerated husband. Not only is the loot well-documented but thanks to an extraordinary effort by Senator Saifur Rahman and his lot, much in variance to his Mr Hyde personality, the foreign banks where some of the loot landed up have been detected and in many cases the accounts frozen. Brazen-faced the former PM had the gall to first deny their existence even, well knowing that she is not telling the truth. What is more extraordinary is that mature political leaders have fallen for her misleading spiel. If other leaders, even with little political standing, get in alliance with her it gives her credibility with the masses, such is the sham that goes for democracy in Pakistan.