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Pakistan slipping lower in corruption index is a bombshell revelation

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It was like a bombshell had hit the government, and its carefully cultivated image of a party fighting against corruption. In the past 42 months of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) rule, there has hardly been anything as devastating as this to damage the credibility of this government.

In the recently released Corruption Perception Index (CPI), 2021, Pakistan’s score slipped 3 points to 28 from last year’s 31 while the international ranking fell by a whopping 16 places to 140 compared to 124 last year. This is a great shock for a government that was swept into power riding an anti-corruption wave and promised to fix at least the top-level corruption within the first 100 days of its rule. As if this was not enough, the CPI indicated a trend of falling score and rank for Pakistan since 2018– the same year the current government came into power.

Berlin-based Transparency International has been compiling and releasing the international CPI for the past 26 years. CPI, generally branded as a survey of the surveys, relies on 13 data sources such as the World Bank, the World Economic Forum headquartered in Geneva, US-based World Justice Project, Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) project hosted by Sweden and the US, US-based Freedom of House and the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) of the UK, PRS Group located in the US and Bertelsmann Foundation of Germany.  

Despite the fact that CPI creates a significant impact on public perception in the home ground and among the international community, it is not a measurement of corruption as such; it is a measurement of the perception of corruption.” 

Ahmed Bilal Mehboob 

Fawad Chaudhry, Federal Minister for Information and Chief Spokesman of Government of Pakistan was right when he identified the Economist Intelligence Unit as the major factor in the fall in Pakistan’s score. While scores contributed by the other 7 entities changed very little over the year, the EIU rating for Pakistan showed a significant dip from 37 in 2020 to 20 in 2021 – representing a 46% decline. But he was not right when he claimed that this decline signified weaknesses in rule of law and political stability and had nothing to do with financial misappropriation. In fact, six of the eight parameters of EIU assessment related to such issues as ‘allocation and use of public funds’; ‘public funds misappropriated of by ministers and public officials’; existence of ‘special funds’ without accountability; ‘abuses of public resources’; ‘auditing the management of public finances’ and whether there is ‘a tradition of payment of bribes to secure contracts and gain favours.’ All these questions directly relate to public funds.   

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The yearly release of CPI is eagerly awaited especially by the investors, donors and creditors of developing countries to possibly adjust the risk profile of these countries and relevant policies. Any major shift in a country’s score, like the one in the case of Pakistan this year, causes a stir in the country concerned and impacts domestic politics as well. 

In Pakistan, the CPI 2021 caused a sonic boom for two key reasons. First and foremost, because PTI always maintained and proclaimed that it was the corruption that pulled down the economy and development of Pakistan and made repeated commitments – both verbally and in the election manifesto – to address corruption soon after coming to power. 

The political polarization is peaking in the country as PTI pushes for early conviction of PPP and PMLN leaders who face corruption and other cases in the courts. As the next general election is just 18 months away, any negative perception, especially the corruption perception, is going to badly hurt the party in power, and that is why CPI 2021 has so seriously impacted the political narrative – at least for now. 

Despite the fact that CPI creates a significant impact on public perception in the home ground and among the international community, it is not a measurement of corruption as such; it is a measurement of the perception of corruption. 

Since perception plays a dominant role in determining the political fortunes of a government – and there are hardly any other measurements of corruption – CPI2021 will continue to worry Imran Khan and his government unless there is an improvement reported in the CPI, 2022, which is just a year away and uncomfortably close to the General Election in 2023.    

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