ACCOUNTABILITY in Pakistan is an ineffective purgative. Despite it having been administered repeatedly since the first dose — The Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947 — it has never worked. Pakistan suffers from something more serious — what an early chronicler of Pakistan, Herbert Feldman in 1967 identified as “an insidious disease, difficult to trace in its early stages, difficult to check, and difficult to eradicate”.
The first attempt at ethical cleansing took place under Gen Ayub Khan in 1959 when over 95,000 public servants in Classes I, II and III were accused of corruption. Out of 2,800 in Class I, barely two per cent were convicted; out of 5,500 in Class II, only 1pc was convicted; and out of 87,000 in Class III, only 55 persons were punished. Such oily Houdini escapes set a tradition that has become the norm in public life.
Pakistan has never reached, nor is ever likely to reach, the top 20, 50 or even 100 of Transparency International’s ranking of quasi-honest countries. At the last count, it was placed at 124 out of 180, reflecting Pakistan’s rotting governance.
The Panama and Pandora revelations have been the result of ferreting by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a collaborative group infiltrating into an offshore underworld of financial chicanery.
The agile corrupt will escape to perform newer tricks.
The Panama Papers, released in 2017, had been compiled by 400 reporters from 80 countries, coordinated by the ICIJ and its partners, The McClatchy Washington Bureau and The Miami Herald. Their revelations “exposed offshore companies linked to more than 140 politicians in more than 50 countries” and earned them the coveted Pulitzer Prize that year. Since then the net has been expanded. The recently released Pandora Papers “involved more than 600 journalists in 117 countries”.
This treasure trove of ill-gotten treasure has been culled from over “11.9 million files from 14 offshore law firms and service providers [,] such as Trident Trust, one of the world’s largest offshore service providers, with offices in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Mauritius, Singapore and other secrecy jurisdictions, including the U.S. state of South Dakota”.
Flailing among them like landed fish are Russian oligarchs close to Putin, Czechs, Venezuelans, even the president son of Kenya’s father Jomo Kenyatta. A disappointing addition is King Abdullah II of Jordan. When his mother — the British commoner Toni Gardner (renamed Princess Muna al Hussein) — married King Hussein in 1961, an explicit condition had been that none of their progeny would succeed to the Hashemite throne. Just before Hussein’s death in 1999, though, the Americans saw to it that Hussein rescinded that disclaimer and nominated the pliable Abdullah his heir.
The Jordanians must be wondering why their half-Jordanian monarch needed to acquire 14 luxury homes worth more than $106m in the UK and the US. Perhaps King Abdullah II has nightmares of being assassinated. His grandfather King Abdullah I was shot in 1951 and his relation King Feisal of Iraq suffered a similarly bloody end. Or exile? The Shah of Iran died in Cairo and King Juan Carlos of Spain abdicated in 2019 amid accusations of kickbacks from the Gulf rulers and Saudi Arabia.
Even the staid Prince Consort of the Netherlands Bernhard (the grandfather of the present Dutch king Willem-Alexander) admitted to taking a bribe of $1 million from Lockheed Corporation. He died saying: “I have accepted that the word Lockheed will be carved on my tombstone.” He also admitted to siring an illegitimate daughter. (He is not alone in that achievement).
The Panama Papers, when first released, provided ammunition to the PTI for cases to be instituted against leaders in the PML-N and the PPP. The Pandora Papers are likely to yield similar projectiles which will be used against targets in the present PTI government. They thought they were safe and beyond reach.
The government has no option now but to unleash its bloodhounds after those whose names have been exposed in the Pandora Papers. Whether this will result in convictions and recovery of even some of the money is debatable. Those in power have an understanding with those out of power. They agree to fire blanks at each other. The agile corrupt will escape, like Houdini, to perform newer tricks.
Feldman described corruption as a vice that is self-assisting: “Neither the giver nor the receiver is prepared to speak, except when betrayal is advantageous.” The Panama and Pandora Papers have not only besmirched already soiled reputations; they have destroyed the confessional sanctity of offshore havens. Clients who bought secrecy have been betrayed by their hired confidants. The tortuous technology that should have concealed their dubious doings have instead revealed them.
Not that this matters. The corrupt will always find new loopholes, designed by the devious for obliging, complicit governments.
The writer is an author.