Different kinds of corruption – Kamila Hyat

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We have seen political corruption under focus for the last many months, almost immediately after the PTI government came to power last year. Of course, all of us want corrupt politicians and others to be penalized under the law. But the lack of transparency and suspicions of vindictiveness inherent in what has been happening have led to some raised eyebrows amongst analysts and legal experts.

We do know that there are many other kinds of corruption taking place in our country which possibly affect a larger number of people more directly and more immediately. At least six to seven major scams involving real estate continue to be reported in the media and some are already in court. In Karachi’s Malir area hapless people watch as land mafias coerce them to sell their plots at ridiculously low prices and then resell them at far higher amounts.

There are also other scandals, some of which sadly use the name of respected institutions in our country. There have been multiple complaints – many of them from Pakistanis based overseas – about a housing scheme run by the Fazaia Group, which has no links to the Pak Air Force but has cleverly used this name. People have paid for plots but never received the files or even any information.

There are other projects which operate in exactly the same manner. Most are run by private individuals and take advantage of people’s need for housing and a secure future. More and more of these people are now stepping forward to say they have been befooled and victimized in the worst possible manner. Some have lost their entire savings.

Of course, other financial scams involving fraudulent land estate deals also continue. Then there are also the cases of pensioners from major organizations in the banking and public sector who have not been paid pensions year after year and in some cases decade after decade. They have died while awaiting justice from the courts.

While the Supreme Court continues to hear at least some of the cases, the frequent absence of lawyers representing the institutions holds up matters. Meanwhile, the pensioners wonder how they are to survive on a day-to-day basis. Overseas Pakistanis who were repeatedly urged to invest in their own country are concerned about how they are to retrieve the money they have lost.

It is true that the amount involved in such scandals may not be as large as those cited in cases of political corruption. But the reality is that for the vast majority of people from middle-class backgrounds losing money earned over a lifetime in a fake scheme is for them more painful than the political corruption of their leaders. Yes, the amount illegally taken away from the public exchequer, if returned, may eventually benefit the country. But it is unlikely to benefit the individual who has ‘bought’ a plot that he has later found simply does not exist at all. For him there is limited remedy. It is possible to turn to the courts but those who have done so have found no relief – in many cases, even after years.

It is easy for those experienced in the art of stealing money in different ways to convince people that purchasing land in their schemes will be beneficial. That money may of course never be seen again given the laxity of checks and balances in our regulatory systems. In this age of technology and the internet, more and more scams continue to come up. There are elderly people who have found their bank accounts emptied, often because they had made a mistake online and given away vital information or a PIN number.

The lack of education and awareness in our country also means many are prone to the actions of those who specialize in electronic fraud. This has been identified as one of the fastest growing problems in the UK and there is every reason to believe that we too are vulnerable to it. Recently there have been multiple reports about skimming systems which detect the numbers of credit cards when placed in an ATM or use other methods to obtain credit or debit card numbers. Through these means accounts can be emptied literally within minutes.

Of course, the government should act against corrupt politicians. However, it would do well to prove that they are guilty before making elaborate claims or statements. There is still little evidence of wilful wrongdoing against the person held in the LNG terminal case. Months after Rana Sanaullah was taken into custody on a drugs charge the many kilograms of illegal substances the concerned minister assured us had been found in his possession have not been produced on video or before a courtroom. We wonder why this is the case.

It is also important to help individuals who have been caught up in other nets of corruption by dishonest real-estate businesses or individuals. Judging only by the reports in the media there are very large number of such people. While looking for the ‘new’ Pakistan they were promised they must be wondering how to obtain justice and how to ensure their safety from corrupt individuals. The reality is that even when buying an electronic item such as a laptop or some other piece of equipment we cannot trust in most cases the person selling it to us. The number of incidents in which such items as well as others have been sold on false pretences are too numerous to count.

But each of these incidents has an impact on the life of a citizen. Think of the student who saved money to buy a computer only to discover s/he has been sold a defective item. There are many other examples of similar wrongdoing. They include black-marketing, which is already taking place as prices rise, and a large variety of other means to rob people of their money. Fraudulent investment schemes are sold to them and other means found to cheat people of hard-earned money. Even a few thousand rupees can count as the equivalent of the billions and trillions we hear spoken about in the case of tycoons or politicians.

A way has to be found to tackle this kind of corruption as well. The government must understand that paying out bribes to set up factories or giving in to the corruption in the police force or other departments takes an enormous toll on people. These people need help too. There must be mechanisms though which they can make complaints so investigations can be carried out as happens in other countries around the world where crimes of course also exist but more means are available to citizens who fall victims to it.

The writer is a freelancecolumnist and formernewspaper editor.