Corruption in Civil Service
Causes, impacts, and the way forward
In Pakistan, people generally believe that civil servants are corrupt, as most bureaucrats breed a culture of non-responsiveness, apathy, elitism and arrogance; while they enjoy excessive perks in the form of official vehicles, palatial residences and unlimited allowances. The public concern about corruption is not unfounded as Transparency International, in its report Corruption Perception Index 2021, has ranked Pakistan at 140th position among 180 countries. Pakistan’s continuous fall on the parameter for the third consecutive year is an open and shut case of ours half-hearted efforts at curbing malpractices while doing business at the state level, and also indicates the necessity of reforms and retribution. The report categorically states that complacency in fighting corruption exacerbates human rights abuses and undermines democracy, setting off a vicious spiral. As these rights and freedoms erode and democracy declines, authoritarianism takes its place, contributing to even higher levels of corruption.
What is Corruption?
Corruption is dishonest behaviour by those in positions of power. It denotes the misuse of public power (by elected politicians or appointed civil servant) for private gain. In order to ensure that not only public but also private corruption between individuals and businesses could be covered by the same simple definition, experts assert that corruption is the misuse of entrusted power (by heritage, education, marriage, election, appointment or whatever else) for private gain. Corruption can entail a variety of actions, including giving or accepting bribes or inappropriate gifts, double-dealing, and defrauding investors.
According to Petrus van Duyne, “Corruption is an improbity or decay in the decision-making process in which a decision-maker consents to deviate or demands deviation from the criterion which should rule his or her decision-making, in exchange for a reward or for the promise or expectation of a reward, while these motives influencing his or her decision-making cannot be part of the justification of the decision.”
According to Transparency International, corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It further says that corruption erodes trust, weakens democracy, hampers economic development and further exacerbates inequality, poverty, social division and the environmental crisis.
Corruption in Civil Service
Bureaucracy, politicians, judiciary, police, business community, and even public at large, corruption is one of the major challenges Pakistan has been faced with since long. The menace has particularly tainted the country’s civil services. Corruption in civil service has resulted in fundamental tangible and intangible losses for the Pakistani people.
In Pakistan’s parliamentary form of government with three branches — the judiciary, the legislature and the executive — the last one is headed by the prime minister who is the chief executive of the country. In this system, the civil service acts as primary arm of the government as it is responsible for operational delivery, assisting in policy formulation and implementing programmes and projects. Governance is a phenomenon through which a society regulates itself to achieve peace and prosperity for its citizens. This function is carried out through the bureaucracy, of which civil service is an integral part. However, when civil service positions are used as rewards for political support or swapped for bribes, the opportunities for high levels of corruption increase significantly.
One of the causes of corruption among the civil servants is their less-than-adequate compensation packages. The importance of adequate remuneration in order to ensure an honest civil service has been widely recognized in the policy debate. A study in 2020 revealed that government servants recruited as gazetted officers in Grade 17 today are worse off as the real value of their take-home salary before any mandatory deductions stands at around Rs23,000 instead of Rs30,000. In comparison, a full-time domestic servant in people’s houses these days is getting an average a salary of Rs20,000 with additional three times free meals and free accommodation. So in a way a freshly recruited CSS officer is only getting around Rs3,000 more than a full-time domestic servant.
Delays in the clearance of files are the root cause of corruption. Particularly at the microeconomic level, bureaucratic holdups and delays cause a significant drag on private businesses. An official who is authorized to pass clearances for projects or industries delays the process in order to make money and other unlawful benefits. A work which can be done in a few days may be done in a month.
In a society which worships power, it is easy for public officials to deviate from ethical conduct. Moreover, delinquent bureaucrats easily get away with misconduct or unscrupulous actions of any kind if found guilty after an internal inquiry,
Various laws have been made to curb the evil of corruption but their weak enforcement has acted as a hindrance in curbing the menace.
Lack of transparency
There is a restricted flow of information between and among government agencies. The prime reason for this is because government agencies that overlap in dealing with certain public issues are competitive in nature. To gain an advantage over their competitor organizations, they keep vital information to themselves. This creates a lack of transparency in government agencies creating opportunities for crooked administrators to engage in malpractices.
Corruption hurts everyone. Its impact goes beyond the corrupt individuals, the innocent colleagues who are implicated, or the reputation of the organisation they work for. Ultimately, it is the people of Pakistan who lose out.
1. Moral degradation
The biggest side effect of corruption is the moral degradation of society. This degradation is in terms of social dimension and its effects are large scale – affecting every other possible activity. Corruption on a governmental level induces corruption on a public scale as well as giving birth to organized crime. Public unrest increases exponentially and cities become victims of urban sprawl in extreme situations. A subset of these dwindling morals also translates into diminished work ethics.
2. Depletion of national wealth
Corruption leads to reduced efficiency of civil servants, causing an increase in costs of goods and services, pricey public resources, and unproductive projects at the expense of vital ones like hospitals, roads, schools, water supply, etc. By converting public wealth to personal wealth, bureaucratic corruption substantially reduces the money in the market causing an imbalance in the economy, leading to inflation. Large-scale corruption damages the economy and harms the entire population.
3. Distortion of political development
History is witness to the downfall of political regimes that engaged in corruption. And, it holds true for bureaucracy as well. Corruption leads to the distortion of the political development of the country. Players engage in unethical practices and break laws to establish their monopoly over the entire political scenario. This leads to the impeachment of citizens’ rights and injustice against many individuals.
This may also spark a political struggle between individuals hindering the government’s development projects. Furthermore, it may lead to the isolation of certain individuals based on power and socio-economic class sparking a war between the rich and poor.
4. Devaluation of democratic culture
In the social context, corruption discourages active participation by citizens. This is done deliberately by corrupt administrators to reduce transparency and increase the gap between the public and policymakers. This profits them, improving their position and augmenting their individual interests. Due to the resulting frustration and general apathy among the masses, the civil society gradually weakens. Social inequality also increases creating stark differences between the rich and the poor.
5. Human rights
Corruption can affect human rights as an obstacle to their realization in general and as a violation of human rights in specific cases. Corruption in the civil service diverts funds from state budgets to buying their cars and other perks, although those should be dedicated to the advancement of human rights. It, therefore, undermines a State’s human rights obligation to maximize available resources for the progressive realization of rights recognized in article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Some other adverse impacts
Lack of quality in services: In a system with corruption, there is no quality of service. To demand quality, one might need to pay for it. This is seen in many areas like municipality, electricity, distribution of relief funds, etc.
Prevalence of injustice: Corruption in judiciary leads to improper justice. And the victims of offense might suffer. A crime may be proved as a benefit of the doubt due to a lack of evidence or even the evidence erased. Due to corruption in the police system, the investigation process has been going on for decades. Hence, in countries where corruption pervades governments and legal systems, law enforcement, legal reform and the fair administration of justice are impeded by corrupt politicians, judges, lawyers, prosecutors, police officers, investigators and auditors.
Poor health and hygiene: In countries with more corruption, one can notice more health problems among people. There will be no fresh drinking water, proper roads, quality food grains supply, milk adulteration, etc. as the money is eaten up by corrupt officials. These low-quality services are all done to save money by the contractors and the officials who are involved.
Failure of genuine research: Research by individuals needs government funding and some of the funding agencies have corrupt officers. These people sanction the funds for research to those investigators who are ready to bribe them.
Loss of public trust: Corruption erodes the trust we have in the public sector to act in our best interests. It also wastes our taxes or rates that have been earmarked for important community projects – meaning we have to put up with poor quality services or infrastructure, or we miss out altogether. Corruption undermines the fairness of institutions and processes and distorts policies and priorities. As a result, corruption damages the legitimacy of regimes leading to a loss of public support and trust for state and government institutions.
Lack of respect for rulers: Rulers of the nation like the president or prime ministers lose respect among the public when their policies do not bring desired results. And, it happens, in large part, due to corrupt officials. Respect is the main criteria in social life. People go for voting during the election with the desire to improve their living standards by the election winner and respect for the leader. If the politicians are involved in corruption, people knowing this will lose respect for them and will not like to cast their vote for such politicians.
Low FDI: Corruption in government bodies has led to many foreign investments going back from developing countries. Administrative delays cause delays in investments, the starting of industries, and also growth.
Lack of development: Many new industries willing to get started in a particular region change their plans if the region is unsuitable. If there are no proper roads, water, and electricity, the companies do not wish to start up there, which hinders the economic progress of that region.
Unfortunately, the pandemic of corruption has spread so deep in the land of the pure that it has become a way of life. Unless this menace is brought under control, the country has no future. In Pakistan, it is commonly perceived that politicisation and corruption in the civil service has seriously undermined the country’s socioeconomic progress at the cost of public service delivery and damaged the credibility of the state and its institutions. Sadly, past efforts to restructure the civil service fell apart mainly because of ineffective strategies and inadequate homework to push through the reforms. Notwithstanding a few bad eggs, a considerable majority of government officers are competent, well-educated, adequately trained, honest and true to their cause of working for the public sector. The only thing that must be done to eradicate corruption among them is to formulate strict laws that must be fairly and transparently implemented. Without that, it would be naïve to expect the bureaucracy to be prepared to serve the people with sincerity and respond efficiently to their needs.
The writer is an expert on International Law.