Saturday, May 23, 2009

7.5 Billion Dollars and their Disbursement

By Saeed Qureshi

What would be the modus operandi for the distribution of the 7.5 billion dollars that the US is giving to Pakistan as a special economic package? Pakistan is one of those countries that abound in scams and scandals of the pilferage of funds either allocated locally or received from external sources by way of aid or loans. The culture of misuse or misappropriation of money is prevalent in most of the third world countries where institutional network of strict oversight and transparent accountability has remained elusive.

The ruling elite and the political stalwarts bend every effort and employ every dirty and devious trick to pocket state funds. The development projects for which the allocations are made are vulnerable and easy hunting grounds for the greedy and self serving lot in power. From a small minion and office orderly to the president and prime minister every one looks up for loop holes and mechanisms for making extra buck whose size depends upon the leverage and authority one wields.

Most of the leading lights of Pakistan’s political arena carry the stigma of embezzlements and thieving of state funds as well as taking bribes and kickbacks for doling out dubious favors. Nawaz Sharif, the twice Pakistan’s prime minister, Asif Ali Zardari, the incumbent president of Pakistan and his late wife Benazir Bhutto, among others, were convicted of fiscal frauds and abuse of political power. President Zardari remained in jail for pretty 8 years for gubernatorial cases of corruption and money laundering. The legal proceedings against Nawaz Sharif, for loan default etc are still pending before the relevant courts of Pakistan.

There is whole army of the in-power and out of power ministers and bureaucrats who have been arraigned for underhand deals running into millions of dollars. One such notorious person, sacked on corruption charges and who remained also in the US prison, was Admiral Mansurul Haq, a former Chief of Pakistan Navy. Later he was released against a plea bargain. He was implicated in Agosta Submarine Deals fraud in 1994 as well as other arms sales.

Such cases of corruption linger on in countries like India and Pakistan for years together till they are forgotten and are either quietly closed for want of evidence, through state forgiveness or presidential pardon. The cases of Asif Ali Zardari surpass all such scams involving brazen kickbacks and daring money laundering but were finally quashed on the strength of a presidential pardon. The mind boggling irony is that now he presides over a country that he looted with rare abandon. Thus a proverbial fox is in charge of protecting the hen house. The ill gotten wealth that is accumulated by the elite, the aristocrats, bureaucrats and army generals of Pakistan if recovered would make Pakistan a modestly rich country and even may make it independent of foreign assistance.

The accountability charade in Pakistan has invariably, remained a non starter or mere a handy tool to sort out and hound the political opponents. During the Nawaz Sharif’s premiership, there was a notorious senator named Saifur Rehman whose only past time was to intimidate and tyrannize the targeted individuals till the time they would either become docile, leave the country or cough up the demanded ransom. He was running personal torture dungeons for the ignoble and black mailing pursuits. It is said that one of the catalysts that brought bad name to Nawaz Sharif’s government and earned him displeasure of the masses was this man Saifur-Rehman. In Pakistan like many other countries with unstable institutions the culture of corruption and sleazy practices have every sprouted and flourished unhindered under the patronage of the powerful classes, be these army, bureaucracy, officialdom or political luminaries.

In Pakistan alone the culture of corruption is endemic and has protection from powerful persons and parties. Countless members of the ruling elite or with feudal or military background have not been even questioned how they accumulated the mountains of wealth. There are innumerable members of parliament, business tycoons and powerful mafias within bureaucracy and officialdom, who with the connivance of the banks and lenders get the fat loans and have these written off later.

India despite being a genuine democracy and with a relatively fair and strict judicial and accountability system has remained mired in many financial frauds and scams. One such major scandal is known as the Bofors scandal. In 1980s; the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and several others were accused of receiving kickbacks from Bofors AB, a Swedish heavy gun manufacturing company for winning a bid to supply India's 155 mm field howitzer. The scale of the corruption was so enormous that it led to the defeat of Gandhi's ruling Indian National Congress party in the November 1989 general elections. The scandal was worth Rs 150 billion.

Narasimha Rao, India’s 12th Prime Minister (1991 -1996) was involved in at least four corruption charges, one of which was the Stock market scandal. Although Rao was acquitted of all the charges prior to his death in 2004, his later life was marked by political isolation due to his association with corruption charges. The other three scandals were JMM bribery scandal, St. Kitts forgery scandal and Lakhubhai Pathak cheating scandal.

In comparison to India, Pakistan’s justice and accountability image is much flawed. It is due to the fact that Pakistan has remained under the military authoritarianism for a major portion of its existence. Even in political dispensations, due to weak institutions and slim public scrutiny, there was no effective or well meaning watchdog system that could have guarded the national exchequer and public money. It is, therefore, unquestionably imperative that the disbursement of this huge and hefty amount given by United States should be closely watched and monitored by the donor country herself.The underlying objective of the aid should be to ameliorate the socio-economic conditions of both the country and the people. The money should be strictly spent on building roads, health care, mass education, building schools and hospitals, for clean environment, for enhanced economic activity, promoting agricultural sector, raising the quality of life, making a civil society, civic turnaround, and similar cherished pursuits. Otherwise a loose and remote control paradigm of oversight would turn out to be futile and counter-productive.

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