Farrukh Saleem: Political Scientist…or Politicised Scientist

Farrukh SaleemFarrukh Saleem’s latest column includes a startling claim. He says that “the estimated amount embezzled over five years of PPP rule” is Rs8.5 trillion. TRILLION. Such a sum amounts to 8.5 percent of GDP during the five year period that PPP was in power. According to the author, this was not only due to the corruption of PPP but also could not be stopped because “Our entire anti-corruption infrastructure is designed and structured to protect corruption“. Farrukh Saleem knows the solution, though, and unsurprisingly it starts and ends at GHQ which if it is not allowed to succeed will result in “wholesale nation-wide disappointment“.

There is not much in Farrukh Saleem’s piece that is surprising. He has been a long-time supporter of the military taking over more and more of the country. What is surprising is the massive number that he is throwing out. Where did this come from? I know it is fashionable to accuse Zardari and Co. of looting everything they put their eyes on, but over 8 percent of GDP may be taking the “Mr 10%” smear a little too far don’t you think? But Farrukh Saleem…excuse me…DR. Farrukh Saleem is a respected political scientist writing for one of the largest media groups in the country. Surely some fact checking was done before this was allowed to be published.

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Transparency International’s Report Is Garbage

Transparency International Pakistan Report 2011Last week, Transparency International Pakistan released the National Corruption Peception Survey 2011. You have heard about the report and its results, no doubt, from one of the many news reports about its findings. Of particular interest has been its findings about corruption in the military as this is the first year military was included in the survey. What you probably haven’t heard much about, however, is that the report is garbage.

Before parroting the findings of any ‘report’, people should take a close lookat the study’s methodology. According to the methodology explanation for TIP’s latest report, Gallup Pakistan (not related to Gallup Inc. headquartered in Washington D.C. USA) surveyed 2,500 Pakistani men and women adults. The error margin for a sample of this size is ±3.5%.

According to the results, only 3% of those surveyed said they had any contact with the military. Of that subset, 11% said they “felt compelled to pay a bribe”. First of all, 3% of respondents is already within the margin of error. But let’s take it a step further: 11% of 3% of people answered in a way that suggests the military is corrupt That’s approximately 8 people only. Which tell us, essentially, nothing. It should also be noted that only 4% of those surveyed said they had any contact with either Customs or Tendering & Contracting.

Let’s also consider the questions that were asked by TIP. Actually, there were only two: First, “In the recent 12 months, did you or your family get a chance to contact any of the following institutions or not?” and second, “Did you feel compelled to pay a bribe?”

Nobody asked why they felt compelled to pay a bribe. Nobody asked if a bribe was actually demanded. Nobody asked if this hypothetical bribe were accepted. And nobody seems to have considered that those people who had contact with institutions like the military might not want to tell a complete stranger who called them the phone that they ‘felt compelled to pay a bribe’ and thought an institution like military was corrupt. With regard to the Education department, does ‘tuition’ count as a bribe? How was this explained to the survey participants?

It is also important to look at the different institutions that TIP asked about. Obviously more people are going to have more contact with Police, Electricity Supply and Taxation than with Military or Tendering & Contracting. Comparatively, these numbers are meaningless. Even if the answers did fall outside TIP’s own margin of error, which they don’t, it appears from the methodology that they asked 2,500 people if they had any contact with each of the 10 institutions – they didn’t find 2,500 people who had contact with each institution. Just because someone has contact with the military and ‘feels compelled to pay a bribe’ but didn’t ever have contact with the police, it doesn’t mean that they think the military is more corrupt than the police. That’s a false inference. And what about Education? Do people consider ‘tuition’ to be a bribe? The ambiguity of the only two questions asked make the answers meaningless.

Furthermore, you can’t rank these institutions because the samples are completely different and the answers are ambiguous. You would be comparing apples to oranges. But that doesn’t stop TIP, who terms Police as most corrupt and Education and Military as least corrupt. Maybe this sounds plausible, except that none of that is supported by the data in this report.

Also worth noting, the institution with the greatest percentage of public contact was Health Department, and even that is below 40%! According to TIP’s study, up to 61% of the population may have had no contact with any government agency at all since the past 1 year!

As far as I can tell, the only thing TIP’s report is good for is as a talking point to criticise government and security agencies. Of course, people will point out that there is a lot to criticise. But this report offers nothing in the way of useful information that could possibly help to eliminate corruption in society. Rather than generating junk studies like this, TIP should produce legitimate research so that we can learn about the problems plaguing the nation and figure out how to actually do something about them.

Lastly, I want to note one thing that always drives me crazy about these Transparency International reports. They are not studies of corruption. They are studies of perceptions of corruption. I don’t know how much co-Sponsors Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation SDC and USAID paid TIP to tell them that people think corruption is a problem, or that people pay bribes to police, but I could have saved them a lot of money. Most frustrating, though, is that these reports are self-reinforcing. People read reports about the annual TI report saying corruption is a problem. So they believe corruption is a problem. Then next year TI calls and asks them if corruption is a problem. “Yes, of course, I read your study!” With “research” like this, is it any wonder we’re not making any progress?


Fixing The Ship Without Sinking It

Syed Yahya HussainyPakistan is not the only country in the world where corruption takes place, but it does seem to be one of the few countries where the approach to reducing corruption actually feeds its existence. While corruption should never be tolerated or excused, we should be asking whether this seeming obsession with corruption in the public discourse is standing in the way of effective solutions. As they say, we should not let perfection be the enemy of good.

The Los Angeles Times reported over the weekend that Adil Gilani, the head of Transparency International’s (TI) office in Karachi, has been threatened by some officials for his work in rooting out corruption. The same day, however, Pakistani daily The News International reported that misunderstandings between TI and the government had been resolved and the two were now working together on joint efforts.

So, what’s the real story about corruption in Pakistan?

As it turns out, corruption is more complex an issue that is often admitted. Part of the problem, as reported by Transparency International, is political instability. This should come as no surprise. Pakistani politicians tend to have a short shelf-life. With a political history that includes more coups than elections, political leaders have a perverse incentive to stash away public funds to ensure their own survival.

But Pakistan is not the only country that has elected one or two crooks in its time. Neighboring India continues to struggle with corruption. In fact, a recent report by the watchdog group Global Financial Integrity found that India has lost more than $462 billion due to tax evasion, crime and corruption. And even that estimate is possibly quite low. Some estimates put the amount of money siphoned off India’s ecnoomy in the trillions. Additionally, The Wall Street Journal this week reported on leaked recordings of phone calls between an Indian lobbyist and her political contacts that has shaken Delhi.

And corruption is not a South Asian export, either. Rest assured, the Americans are in on the game as well.

In recent weeks the powerful American Congressman Charlie Rangel was found guilty of 11 counts of ethical violations including “failure to pay some taxes, improper solicitation of charitable donations and failure to accurately report his personal income” and former Vice President Dick Cheney faces accusations in a bribery scandal in Nigeria.

Though corruption is present in both India and the US, the solution for the problem in these countries is discussed differently than in Pakistan. Rather than supporting transparency and establishing processes that help prevent corruption by making it too risky, discussion in Pakistan focuses on vague and unsubstantiated accusations by political opponents and a sensational media. Corruption often overtakes discussion of terrorism, development, and education in the popular discourse. As a result, these problems continue unaddressed. Simply put, it’s easier to score political points by accusing your opponent of corruption than it is to produce innovative solutions for the deeper problems that Pakistan faces.

Worse, however, are the perennial threats of coup against every seated government, regardless of whether or not it was genuinely democratically elected. Earlier this year, for example, the head of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) political party, Altaf Hussain, publicly called for the military to “take any martial law-type action against corruption politicians”. While this statement was widely condemned, many observed that it was the natural result of a perceived campaign to unseat the democratically elected government by some sections of Pakistan’s media.

Everyone has disavowed the old reflex of trying to get rid of the government mid-tenure. But if you look at the political landscape of Pakistan you will clearly see that there is a media campaign to do just that to the PPP government. Criticism of the government is a duty that a free media must perform, even of problems like the PIA, of load-shedding and rental units, and the wheat and sugar crises, that have a history in the past. But defaming the president of the country so blithely is not a good precedent to set, especially by comparing him to a president recently deposed in Latin America for corruption.

Ironically, many of the journalists involved in this campaign support opposition political leader Nawaz Sharif – himself removed from power in 1999 by a military coup rationalized by claims of weeding out corruption. At the end of the day, the political discussion of corruption in Pakistan has less to do with corruption than with politics.

No one believes corruption should be tolerated, and no one believes that the rich and powerful should be allowed to use the nation as their personal bank account. But eliminating corruption in Pakistan must be approached with reason and patience. If opposition politicians or journalists have evidence that exposes corruption, by all means that should be presented to the public. But using the issue of corruption as a political strategy risks undoing not just the present government, but democracy as a whole. This would do nothing to eliminate corruption, while doing irreparable damage to country’s democratic progress. Removing a ship’s hull to fix a leak mid-voyage only threatens to exacerbate the problem and ultimately sink the ship.