Make the punishment fit the crime!

FEBRUARY 19, 2020
I’ve often wondered why Pakistan is in such a sorry state. Why, for instance, do people display such blatant disregard for traffic rules? Is it because they know that even if they get stopped by traffic cops, they’ll get away by paying them a couple of hundred rupees? Why is it that there are rampant smugglings, under-invoicing and misdeclaration of imported goods? If by chance, customs personnel do catch someone indulging in these illegal activities, they simply take bribes to release the confiscated goods.

Drug dealers have the police in their pockets. A Station House Officer has to pay a handsome amount (millions of rupees) to be posted to a city where he can earn millions from criminals. He continues paying a part of his illegal income to higher-ups, simply to ensure that he is not transferred back to a small town where he won’t make much. The same is true of other government departments (like the Customs). A famous saying in Urdu, when translated to English, goes, “In the national toilet, everyone is naked.” It means that in this country, every government employee is corrupt.

My attention was drawn to a recent news item about high-ranking customs officials being found involved in large-scale corruption. It seems that these enterprising men allowed the clearance of nine hundred containers of misdeclared goods, causing losses of billions of rupees to the nation. If this had happened in a civilised country, the corrupt officers would have been sentenced to jail terms. In China, they might even have been executed. But not in Pakistan. Some were transferred, and others were suspended for a time. What kind of message does this convey to other government officials? That whatever the crime, there will be practically no punishment?
But then the government has been encouraging crime in the private sector. After every two or three years, tax evaders are allowed to whiten their looted wealth by paying a pittance (about two or three per cent). Knowing that even if they are caught, they will not be punished, the looters merrily go on making millions and billions. No wonder that you come across income tax officers, police inspectors and customs appraisers owning huge bungalows in posh areas.

Smugglers are a class apart. They are the chosen ones. It seems that they simply cannot be touched. Millions of tonnes of wheat and sugar were smuggled across the border without anyone batting an eyelid. Would this have been possible without the connivance of the officials involved? If a truck carrying smuggled items is intercepted, and the truck driver does not have the money to pay the required bribe, a phone call from some powerful person gets it released. No wonder smuggled cloth, and other items are freely available in our major cities!

I know that those who rule over us are too busy trying to save themselves, but the few honest ones among them should at least remember they are supposed to protect the interests of the nation. Why can’t they ensure the punishment is according to the crime? I do not suggest the corrupt government officials should be hanged, but a few jail terms (combined with heavy penalties) would go a long way in reducing corruption. Remember what happened in South Korea when its president and others were sentenced to death for corruption? Even the peons in government offices stopped asking for bribes!
The writer is an engineer, a former visiting lecturer at NED Engineering College