Saturday, January 1, 2011

Artificial ingenuity

It is a cosmetic world. Emotions, feelings and actions are designed for a predetermined end in mind, i.e. to create the effect of a selfless purpose, develop a special aura by saying all the right things and displaying all the correct expressions only to give way to a reality that reveals a shocking plethora of lies and deception. With so many theatrical effects present at every level of this global village, be it personal, professional or political, it is extremely challenging to distinguish true from false and genuine from fake. As the world becomes wealthier, more technologically advanced and more aggressively competitive, it has witnessed more discontent, disillusionment and disturbance than before. The reason being a sad loss of prioritisation of what is and is not important, a mad race to grab fame and fortune in the shortest possible time, and a complete disregard for the values and principles on which humanity anchors itself.
The global corruption survey 2010 has shown how uncertain and unethical this world is. From developed to underdeveloped countries, the ability to be clean and genuine has become an outdated phenomenon. The level of trust in institutions, individuals and leaders is at an all time low. The normal perception used to be that the developed western countries have a relatively above board style of living and leading while the lesser-developed countries are the ones where the corruption epidemic had infiltrated every aspect of life. The global survey shows that views on an increase in corruption were most dramatic in Western Europe and North America, where 73 percent and 67 percent people respectively believed that corruption has been on the rise in the last three years. The post-recession period has really tested the mettle of organisations and institutions in the western world. Many organisations that were symbols of integrity turned out to have shallow plastic veneers of skin-deep cleanliness hiding under them years of discrepancy in words and deeds, robbing millions of stakeholders of their investments. Big names like Citibank, General Motors, Freddie Mac and Lehman Brothers were all found guilty of hiding, inflating and misreporting the true state of their affairs to keep on playing with other people’s money.
With this state of affairs of trust in organisations, trust in political leadership is also at an all time low in the world. Eight out of ten people in the west say that political parties are extremely corrupt and find the government’s attempts to curb corruption totally ineffective. From scandals on the Italian prime minister to the French president’s corrupt global deals, the story remains of exploitation and misappropriations. For emerging powers, the story is no different. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has had a clean image so far, is also under investigation for letting corruption worth $ 40 billion take place in the telecom industry. The fact that he did not personally have a stake in this loot does not absolve him of his ability to overlook the corruption of such a huge amount just because the minister of telecom was an important coalition partner in the game of his party’s power hold in the government.

Thus, corruption has multiple faces. The most obvious one is of bribes and payoffs in cash or kind. These are the most quantifiable, traceable and thus punishable. The more not so obvious ones are use and abuse of power to speed up contracts, appoint your own favoured officials, create harassment for your unfavoured and opposing forces, make contract conditions biased towards a particular party and look the other way at deviants as long as they serve your interest. Corruption of a more subtle kind also includes displaying hypocritical simplicity to create a false impression of modesty while inwardly supporting ostentatious behaviour, pretending to take a principled stance to gain popular support but actually just enhancing blackmailing power, becoming humble and self deprecating in agreement with opposing forces while really looking down at all those in disagreement with your way of thinking. With this expanded definition of corruption that includes not only financial corruption, but interpersonal and intellectual corruption as well, I think most of us will find it very hard not to be found guilty.
The global corruption survey has also pointed out that corruption in Pakistan has increased alarmingly. The most corrupt of services has been the police, scoring 4.5 out of a maximum of 5, followed by civil servants at 4.1, while equally corrupt are the politicians and parliamentarians. The institutions that have fared better are the judiciary, media and military. The surprise pick of this survey has been the religious parties who are perceived as the least corrupt. This is perhaps due to the limited definition of corruption used in the corruption barometer. If the definition were to include intellectual corruption of hiding the real intention of using religion for gaining power and misleading the public for personal gain, these religious parties would score higher. A prime example is the extreme opposition to repealing the Blasphemy Law by the religious factions, not because they love religion but because they hate opposition to their own interpretation of Islam. Another example is the recent segregation of the JUI-F from the ruling party on removal of their minister who was throwing accusations of corruption at another government minister. The real reason may not be their angst at the government not bringing the real culprit to court but just flexing their political muscle to exploit the weak position of the government to gain even more political favour from the tottering government.
Thus, corruption may be a global phenomenon but its impact on poor countries is much harder when compared with more developed countries. The poor, who have no access to law and justice, merit and fair play, find themselves edged out by the rich who get things done instantly either through cash or connections. The poor are pushed back in queues, harassed by civil servants, denied by public institutions and humiliated by the rich due to a system where the will of the powerful stampedes the powerless. Such societies, impregnated with might ruling right, inevitably kill hope, creativity and positivity and become breeding grounds of cynicism, apathy and disbelief. It is the deafening silence of people who can do something about this disintegration of the social fabric but choose not to that leaves ground for those who are corrupt to the core to have an open field. Remember the perception of a less corrupt judiciary was started with one action by one man, and thus, it is the ability of each one of us to take that one small step that can eventually make a big difference — history proves that all change is a matter of that one step by one ordinary man on the one untravelled road.

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