Eyeless in Pakistan
BY I. A . R E H M A N | 7/2/2015

WHILE millions of Pakistanis continue to indulge in their love of the sensational by following juicy stories of corruption in their country, as narrated by well-known representatives of the international media, the indigenous tribes of investigators, in state services as well as in the media, are in danger of earning the title of the eyeless in their homeland.

Many departments of government and their high-ranking officials are feverishly busy in inquiries and actions necessitated by the New York Times report on Axact and the BBC report on the MQM`s sources of funding. They are giving the impression that it is only from the media that they have heard of Axact and of skeletons in the MQM`s cupboard.

They are obviously not worried by the thought that they were expected to find out long ago what two foreign journalists claim to have uncovered now, and that their failure to do so amounts to their being indicted for inefficiency or collusion with the wrongdoers, or both.

It is difficult to believe that the media reports under reference contained anything a reasonably competent agency could have missed.

Take the case of Axact. While the working of its degree-producing plants had of necessity to be secret, it was from the very beginning a high-flying, highly visible enterprise. It was overly keen to flaunt its riches, its ability to buy out professionals at incredibly high wages, and its capacity to dazzle the cream of the civil and military nobility with its opulence and its generosity as a host.

All these things should have caught the eye of the large force employed by the excise, taxation, customs and other privileged snoopers as they know who is living beyond his known sources of income. The organisation was not avoiding contact with authority. It imported machinery, electronic equipment and custom-built office fixtures and furnishings through the normal channels. It also acquired the licence to launch the `country`s biggest` TV channel. Is Axact the only entity that outwitted the oversized administration or did it merely capitalise on the facilities the state provides to anyone who can pay for them? The case of the MQM story is slightly different. It is not for the first time that this party has been accused of a special India connection. The disclosure of what an MQM leader is reported to have told the British police a couple of years ago, calls attention to two points. First, the timing of the disclosure and, secondly, the failure of the state to figure out the MQM earlier.

Regardless of what will happen to the MQM, and that will take time, the immediate result is the discrediting of the existing system of governance. One after the other, the state apparently is picking out parties on the hit list of extremist militants while a major party is trying to survive charges of illegitimacy. The increase in anti-India sentiment and the consequent search for a messiah might not be unintended consequences of the get-MQM and get-PPP operation.

The national media has shown no sign of remorse at having been beaten by foreign competitors. One reason is that the people of Pakistan have a long history of learning what is wrong in their country from the international media. The national media may not be happy with the ways of the information managers, but it has apparently lost both its will and capacity to fight for the people`s right to know.

The media cannot be blamed for giving due publicity to the official truth but the growing tendency to project it as the whole truth is going to cost it further loss of credibility besides causing the people grievous harm. An idea of the tendency to report corruption cases without examining them critically can be formed by taking note of the following instances reported last month: Millions of rupees pumped into a `ghost` hospital in Sindh over three years; five persons arrested in Karachi in a land-grab case (estimate of land price:Rs4.5 billion); Rs230bn fraud detected in Karachi; National Accountability Bureau probe against three former heads of the Federal Board of Revenue; a Rs2.5bn scam is uncovered at a university in the capital; NAB probes charges against a doctor suspected of depriving 207 colleagues of Rs4.5bn.

In all these reports, the emphasis is on the size of the fraud and the identity of the culprits. Little attempt is made to throw light on the disease of which these cases are mere symptoms.

The people applaud the Punjab chief minister for issuing special instructions to the anti-corruption authorities to proceed against high-profile officials suspected of corruption, which means that without such directives these targets would not be visible to the relevant authorities.

The latest story about huge payments made to `ghost` teachers in Karachi is a case worth studying. A man is accused of siphoning off up to Rs700,000 per month as wages for absentee teachers his relatives, including some already dead.

Now `ghost` schools, `ghost` teachers and `ghost` pupils have been figuring in media reports for many years. Why has the government failed to check this easily manageable crime? The only reason is a general lack of superintendence. If the scheme of regular visits to schools that was in force a few decades ago had been kept alive, a scandal of this kind would have been impossible.

The fight against corruption cannot end with catching the culprits and getting them condemned in the media. That is the smaller part of the task.

The bigger challenge calls for stemming the rot at the top. A state that is not mindful of the loss of its moral authority and a state in which there is no equality of opportunity and where justice is becoming rare, such a state can check neither corruption nor stop the killing of innocent people for their belief. Anyone who does not realise this may be able to see some trees but will always miss the woods.•

Published in Dawn