Pakistan is in international headlines today not because of any investigative reporting by some foreign journalist but by the actions of Pakistanis themselves. First the Chairman of the National Accountability Bureau volunteered to be interviewed on a TV channel. Not only did he take the opportunity (conveniently provided by the anchor) to refute all the allegations against him but he also did a super job of blowing his own trumpet. Perhaps carried away by his own eloquence and affected accent he declared that the daily corruption in Pakistan was Rupees 15 billion. He did not back up this assertion by any data or statistics or any research or analysis report. This statement by a top Pakistani official was swallowed hook, line and sinker by a public ready to believe the worst and a world that simply loves helping Pakistan do it to itself. Couldn’t this former Navy man turned Mr. Accountability go and brief the government that appointed him or does he have no faith in them? His seemingly bold action has endeared him to the public albeit briefly before the focus shifts back to his own track record with a business tycoon now facing the courts? Quite rightly the Prime Minister has summoned him to explain his conduct and if the Prime Minister has a spine he will haul him over the coals and then get to the facts. Almost immediately after the summons the man has given a public ‘explanation’ to pacify the government!!
Second there is the latest from an enterprising Pakistani journalist who is making a name for himself by unearthing ugly truths and making them public. His latest foray was into the tax returns of the Cabinet and the Members of Parliament and the report that he has produced tells the world that 75% of the peoples representatives do not pay taxes with some not even registered as tax payers and most of the rest paying very nominal amounts. His report is the subject of debates on TV and the international media has lapped it up. The countries that dole out their own tax payers’ dollars and pounds to us are not amused — in fact they must be thinking hard. Aren’t tax returns confidential documents? Is there any forum or methodology for media – government interaction when sensitive issues are involved or are ratings and personal ambitions more important than the country’s image? What effect would the release of this information have on those who are paying taxes? The Parliamentarians are rightly furious because the taxes on their meager salaries have not been indicated and nor have other things like advance tax and withholding tax that are compulsory deductions? How can tax be deducted from your salary without making you a registered tax payer with a national tax number?
Recent international surveys have ranked Pakistan among the most corrupt countries in the world, the worst governed and even among the worst places to be born in. One such report placed Pakistanis among the happiest people but now a columnist has written an article in which he tells us the difference between being happy and cheerful thereby debunking the notion that we are happy. Yet another writer informs us that the highest in the judicial hierarchy singled out a journalist for flowers after that journalist escaped an assassination attempt and then asks the question why only this journalist was sent flowers and not the countless and faceless others who have met violent ends. Shouldn’t someone investigate a bomb that is so shoddily fixed that a conveniently standing bystander spots it and alerts the intended victim and a bomb planter who does not detonate it when the victim is sitting on the bomb and instead waits for it to be spotted? Must we make fools of ourselves?
By Ghalib Sultan