An initiative proposed recently by the World Bank (WB) and the British Department for International Development (DFID) aimed at rooting out corruption in Pakistan’s Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) illustrates some of the challenges associated with tackling this deeply entrenched problem endemic to most parts of the developing world.
The FBR is the largest federal bureaucracy in Pakistan, responsible for most of the country’s tax collection activities, including the imposition of import tariffs and fees which are administered by the FBR’s customs wing, the Pakistan Customs Service. Corruption is widely known to be rampant in the country — it currently ranks 127 out of 177 countries according to the watchdog group Transparency International — and the FBR is no exception to what Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called a “menace” that “has thwarted all efforts aimed at improving public service delivery.”
Under the proposed terms of the WB-DFID project, the “life style” of FBR officers would be monitored and potential signs of corruption detected by comparing it to their income and declared assets. Significant discrepancies between the two would then be flagged up for further investigation and possible disciplinary action, if necessary. They would, for example, no longer be described as “Honest and Above Board” in their annual performance reports (presumably one of the milder consequences).
Word of the new project immediately sparked a turf battle over which branch of the FBR will look after operations (not to mention the $1 million expenditure committed to the scheme by its foreign sponsors). If handled by the Human Resource Division the project would operate as part of the Integrity Management Unit, but if run by the Administration Department it would be part of the Asset Declaration Unit.
Meanwhile, in the ranks of the FBR, Customs Today reports that a “severe tug of war” has broken out between “honest” and “corrupt” officers over the initiative’s terms of reference. According to the source quoted by the paper, “officers with the least good repute and fame” are attempting to have the project’s ability to perform effectively curtailed by giving it a weak mandate, whereas the “honest officers are pushing forward for having a strong and result-oriented unit with strict rules and regulations.”
It remains to be seen whether fledgling anti-corruption effort eventually manages to get off the ground, but there may be some hope for its backers to be derived from the unequivocal anti-corruption statement earlier this week by Pakistan’s President Mamnoon Hussain, stressing the urgent need for ridding national institutions of corrupt practices in order to create an environment where the country’s economy can be strengthened.