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EDITORIAL: Transparency International’s (TI’s) confirmation that data used in its Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2020 was indeed from 2019 and 2020, both Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) years, has left a little egg on government spokespersons’ faces because all of them, without exception, commented on the report without so much as giving it a look and claimed for some reason that it was about the previous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government’s tenure. Yet most of them have still chosen to adopt a pretty defiant tone, which would clearly imply that they believe they have done enough at least as far as corruption is concerned. For everybody other than the ruling party though the report, in which Pakistan’s position has dropped four points to 124 out of 180 countries over the last two years, flies in the face of the PTI’s own earlier claims like ending corruption at the top within 90 days of forming government, etc. PTI representatives ought to be all the more embarrassed because this was the time each year, when they were in opposition, when TI came out with the CPI and they went to town with it; led by their skipper, of course, and now the shoe is on the other foot.

Perhaps PTI’s senior leaders should take this opportunity to reflect on the revelations of the report instead of just throwing tantrums and blaming previous administrations for everything that continues to go wrong. Granted, controlling corruption when it is as deep rooted as it has become in Pakistan takes time, but it is pretty clear by now that the accountability drive isn’t working quite as it was supposed to. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has picked up, investigated, and interrogated one senior opposition politician after another, kept them for months and years, and still failed to convict any of them on a serious charge or make any serious recovery; something which, on occasion, even forced the Supreme Court to suspect a bit of “political engineering” behind the watchdog’s actions.

Let’s not forget that accountability was central to PTI’s narrative not only because the people were desperate to see all those responsible for loot and plunder of this country to answer for it but also because it was going to make the way for repatriation of billions of dollars stolen from them. That money was going to jump-start the economy and build the millions of homes and provide the tens of millions of jobs that the prime minister promised. Yet now it turns out, half-way through the government’s term, that not only is the money nowhere in sight but corruption, or at least the perception of it, has actually increased after shedding a few points in the last couple of years of the PML-N administration. Unless PTI treats this matter very seriously and urgently it could lose not just political points but also brand value. Now the largely united opposition is sure to grind this report for whatever gain it can, especially since Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) is scrambling to regain lost momentum, because an internationally recognised institution’s findings make them appear better than PTI in terms of curbing corruption.

PTI must now make sure that it shows results in the next half of the electoral cycle. Only if some “big fish” who have been hounded for the last two years are convicted by courts will the government’s claims begin to come true and only then will it be able to put the fear of God into anybody even considering to exploit the system for personal gain. Actions must speak louder than words so PTI would have to catch some thieves, make them pay, and bring back stolen wealth before it can command some real respect, especially considering how loud its words have been in the past. So far, regrettably, it has mishandled the fallout of the report. Downplaying it and dodging important questions might win it some debates on prime time TV, but it is not going to do much about statistics that the corruption index builds on, and it is definitely not going to impress voters who were charmed by Imran Khan’s narrative of change and accountability.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021