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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Corruption in Pakistan: A never-ending challenge

According to Dr. Farid A. Malik, an Ex-Chairman of the Pakistan Science Foundation, corruption combined with incompetence has become the order of the day. The combination of honest and able individuals which once existed has almost become extinct.

As a nation, we have been roasted/cooked. According to the fable of the burning frog, we now find ourselves trapped in boiling water with no chance of jumping out. Almost everyone seems helpless except a few brave souls with Imran Khan, the Prime Minister (PM) being one of them. The trap for the frog was laid in tepid water; while he was enjoying the swim, the temperature was incrementally raised. The threats gradually increased leaving no chance for him to jump out till he was roasted and ready to be devoured.

The East India Company arrived in the Indian Subcontinent for trade but succeeded in establishing their rule, which extended over centuries. During his recent visit to Uzbekistan, the PM talked about Babar who came from there to establish the Mughal Dynasty after the battle of Panipat in 1526. The feuding local Maharajas decided to invite him to gain an advantage over their competitors but little did they know that he would establish his own kingdom to rule for about 300 years.

Read more: The resurgence of “Ghazwa-e-Hind”: Indian transgressions against Muslims (Part 1)

How the British evolved over time

Due to short-term vested interests or a lack of vision, nations overlook long-term implications and get entrapped. When the British arrived in India, it was an economic superpower of the world but when they left in 1947, it was one of the poorest and has failed to recover till today. Once derailed and off track, recovery is never easy. According to the famous saying of Lord Thomas Macaulay in February 1835, “I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief.

“Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such caliber, that I do not think we could ever conquer this country unless we break the very backbone of this nation which is her cultural and spiritual heritage and therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system”. The aim was to produce a subservient-dominated nation, in which they prevailed.

In August 1947, under the leadership of Jinnah, we made a fresh start. Nation-building was high on the agenda, by and large merit prevailed. People of honesty and integrity were in high positions. Education was taken seriously. Teachers took pride in their work. My father’s family ran the Islamia High School in Ludhiana that produced scientists like Professor Riazuddin who designed our nuclear device. The headmaster was Mukhtar Sadiq Sahib, who later joined the Education Department and rose to be its Director in the new land.


His nephew Mushtaq Qureshi Sahib was my teacher and mentor who retired as Controller Examinations of the Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (BISE) Lahore. Both scholars remain among the many unsung heroes of Pakistan. After migration, the family established the Pakistan Foundation School in Faisalabad near the famous Ghanta Ghar.

Corruption: The order of the day

Most migrants from Ludhiana settled in Faisalabad and Gujranwala while my family opted for Lahore to pursue their watch business. Education remained a serious business till we were hit by another Macaulay called Zia-ul-Haq in whose rule this sector was totally ignored. With the collapse of public sector education, businesses moved in to fill the gap. The spirit was lost in the quest to make money in this vital area of nation and character building.

After education, merit was the next causality that eventually destroyed all civilian institutions. Today the armed forces remain the only functional entities in the country; the rest have been reduced to rubble or cooked and roasted. In the last forty years, heat has remained unchecked; swimming or jumping out of boiling water has become almost impossible.

Corruption combined with incompetence has become the order of the day. The combination of honest and able individuals which once existed has almost become extinct. My first major project in Pakistan was the Saindak Copper and Gold development in Balochistan.

In the year 1992, it was one of the major projects costing around Rs16 billion. On my first visit to the site, I was able to understand the shortcomings which were mostly managerial and non-technical in nature, but what surprised me the most was that no one was willing to correct them. While I could foresee the impending scenario, no one was willing to stick their head out in the best interests of the country and the future of the mining potential that we were blessed with. With deaf ears all around, I decided to document and then write about the impending disaster.

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On July 21, 1997, The Nation published my article titled; ‘Need to save the Saindak Project’. On reading my article, the Managing Director (MD) of Saindak Metals Limited (SML) called me from Quetta with a request for a meeting. A few days later we met at the Avari Hotel, where he was staying. To my surprise, he had come all the way to let me know that I could only continue if I followed their approach.

As highlighted and predicted, the entire operation was handed over to the Chinese contractor who has been mining and shipping the metal concentrates for the last twenty years. Reko Diq was another misadventure that still remains unresolved today. Thank God, I was able to steer the Thar Coal project which is now on the ground. The same team is now ready to take on the challenge of developing Reko Diq after a complete settlement of the dispute.

When I joined Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF) in 2002, I observed that the Admin Officer had recruited a bulk of the staff from his native village, and loyalty to the institution was very low. The first challenge was to restore merit in all recruitments and the second was to win loyalties for the foundation. Two Grade-17 scientists were selected through due process and call letters were issued. One of them joined while the other called to complain that he had not received the letter.

Sensing foul play, I ordered an inquiry. Instead of correcting his deliberate mistake to favor his candidate, the Admin Officer tried to corner me. He came with a long-term leave application which I approved on the spot. Perhaps he overestimated his importance—he then requested for the withdrawal of his application and apologized for his behavior.

Read more: The resurgence of “Ghazwa-e-Hind”: Indian transgressions against Muslims (Part 2)

Finally, I allowed him to proceed on one week’s leave. On the very first day, I transferred him out of the Administration Department. On this move again I was surprised to receive calls from the highest offices of the land asking me to reconsider my decision but I remained firm. The ‘mafia network’ was not happy when one of its members was dislodged from a seat of power.

Corruption needs to be contained

There is a Persian saying “Uzar As Gunah Batar As Gunah” (the denial of evil is as bad as evil itself). We must admit that as a nation we have been roasted and will continue to decline unless the heat is reduced and then turned off for normalcy to return.

The bureaucracy has to be made functional. People have to show up on time and then perform their duties. The promotion and reward system needs a major overhaul. Merit has to be restored both in recruitment and promotions.

Read more: Indian Muslims: A rich hunting ground for Middle Eastern rivals – James M. Dorsey

Corruption has to be contained. Recently, the Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) has asked to report cases of ‘Chai Pani’ demands by the departmental staff. I plan to try this mechanism of containing corruption but with a request that a voluntary token of thanks by the public for good service and facilitation after the task has been completed should be allowed as a tip or ‘baksheesh’ but not as a demand to get the job done as is the current norm. The ‘no payment, no service’ approach is a disaster that needs to be checked through accountability and effective on-the-job performance evaluation which has been missing.

Dr. Farid A. Malik is Ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation. The article was first published in The Nation and has been republished with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.