Pakistan Institute of Development Economics

Anti-Corruption Dynamics of Pakistan in Face of Succumbed Perceptions

Anti-Corruption Dynamics of Pakistan in Face of Succumbed Perceptions (Blog)

Publication Year : 2020
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Corruption is commonly termed as “misuse of public office for private gain”. It has adverse implications for development and governance initiatives. Such as, creating doubt about the legitimacy of state institutions and credibility of public policies. Therefore, it has become a major challenge in various countries. The menace of corruption is rampant and deep rooted in developing countries like Pakistan. Even though, anti-corruption initiatives are high priority agenda in some economies, most of combating reforms seem to bring little or no improvement in international rankings. Hence, it requires having in-depth knowledge about the dynamics of anti-corruption and understanding so-called rankings we want to improve. Here we briefly review important aspects with reference to Pakistan.

Pakistan has struggled with high levels of corruption since its inception. Different political regimes have taken various initiatives to combat this evil. In particular, there was introduction of anti-corruption acts and establishment of anti-corruption institutes. Such as, Special Anti-Corruption Establishment (1947), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA, 1975), Accountability Bureau (1997) and National Accountability Bureau (NAB, 1997) etc. According to the Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International, Pakistan’s rank in 1996 was the second most corrupt country. Although, Pakistan has improved over the years but it has never made it above the bottom ranks. Recently, it has gone 3 points down the ratings with absolute score of 32 and is ranked 120 among 180 countries (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Pakistan Corruption Rank 1995-2019

Naturally this report creates an outrage among the people of Pakistan. And has casted doubt about the ruling party’s proclaimed “fight against corrupt status quo”. However, empirical evidence discloses some facts behind such increased corruption. Some of the evidence is discussed here.

Systematic Nature of Corruption

Several arguments explain the failures to implement the anti-corruption reforms (Hill & Hupe, 2002) in developing countries. Majority of countries with high corruption maintain similar or sometimes worse levels of corruption following the anti-corruption initiatives (Fjeldstad and Isaksen 2008; Lawson, 2009). Because corruption in these economies is often systematic in nature. And choice to corrupt or not, is more like “collective action problem” (Oslon, 1965) rather than individual decision. Therefore, individuals are more likely to do corruption because others prefer their personal interests over society as a whole. Mostly people are not corrupt by default but they become ‘corruptible’ (Miller (2006). In such situation successful implementation of anti-corruption reforms is subject to the number of people each individual perceive to be corrupt other than him. Therefore, tendency to follow self-interest is overwhelmed by corruption benefits which exceed the cost at least for the short term.

Besides this, transparency efforts may remain fruitless given the lack of political will. Stakeholders such as politicians, officials and citizens are passive in act of holding the corrupts accountable because of several factors. Reforms get entangled in deep rooted networks. Like in case of Pakistan people believe that political victimization (Khan, 2016) is the actual motive of anti-corruption drive. In addition corruption becomes acceptable to citizens (Heidenheimer, 2002). Hence, the common undue exchanges make the “need corruption” a societal norm.

In brief, corruption is a victimless crime that incurs widespread yet unnoticeable negative social cost. By default, incentives and value judgments of participants persuade them towards non-compliance of anti-corruption laws (Batory, 2012). As theoretically everyone is better-off at dishonest behavior. So, they tend to create more alternate opportunities (Bäck and Hadenius, 2008) after strict enforcement of anti-corruption law. Consequently, there is substantial increases in cost of corruption that compels people to pay higher bribes. However, these incentives cannot sustain for long if localized solutions are introduced.

Misunderstood Rankings & Succumbed Perceptions

Another critical issue about corruption ranking is misunderstanding and lack of awareness to the real outcomes of anti-corruption drive. For instance, Corruption Perception Index (CPI) by TI is a popularly known measure of average corruption level across nations. Yet it merely accounts for the perceptions of some non-heterogenous (businessmen’s) groups about corruption. But it is falsely labelled as a measure of actual corruption levels. It must be known that perception based rankings do not depict the real incidence of corruption. The perceptions are found to have stark difference from reality (Zaman and Rahim, 2008) and likely to vary even with zero evidence of corruption (Cobham, 2013).

Cross country studies have found that corruption perceptions are influenced by different exogenous factors. For example, these vary with individual attributes, social and regional conditions etc. A recent study by US researchers found that the incidence of perceived corruption is highly associated with media coverage of corruption cases in a country. Cases of crack-down in a country get wide attention from national and international media. So corruption in those economies is perceived to be much higher than it actual may be.

Since it develops a general perception of high incidence that in turn deteriorates the perceived ratings. Therefore, succumbed perceptions, misunderstanding and misinterpreting the CPI are potential factors behind worsened ranking of Pakistan. It requires to develop and adopt a suitable measure of corruption. So that we can avoid inappropriate policies based on the misleading measures like CPI. Current government has always emphasized to deliver good governance and aimed to denounce the corrupt practices of its predecessors. Despite of serious efforts from top leadership, there is a long way to achieve the transparency goals. It is not possible without strong will of politicians, officials, citizens and organizations. In short, we must do inclusive efforts termed by World Bank as “coalition of concerned” against the deep rooted systematic norms and corrupt culture.


  1. Hill, M. & Hupe, P. (2002). Implementing Public Policy: Governance in Theory and Practice. Sage, London.
  2. Fjeldstad, O. & Jan, I. (2008). Anti-Corruption Reforms: Challenges, Effects and Limits of World Bank Support Report in External Series. Working Paper No. 7. Washington, DC: Independent Evaluation Group (IEG), World Bank.
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  9. Zaman, A., & Rahim, F. (2008). Corruption: Measuring the Unmeasurable (Munich Personal RePEc Archive).