Any talk of the lesser evil being also bad is considered unrealistic, bookish and misplaced idealism.
A degree is a degree, whether fake or original. This classic quote by one of our top leaders best defines how corruption is viewed in our society. The definition of what being honest, right or lawful is has undergone a tremendous change in the last few decades where it has become difficult to classify people as being respectably wrong or wrongly respectable. The general understanding is that any transaction in which a tangible and provable financial coup is made by an individual or organisation is what gets classified as corruption. That is why tags like Mr 10 percent are so easy to understand and become a standard to be compared to others. Such obvious corruption unfortunately only forms one percent of the massive wrongdoings that have beset the world today. In Pakistan, the ability to get away even with murder has mostly been considered political acumen, strategic maturity and conniving intelligence. What is more disturbing is that many of the acts that are equal to corruption and may cause much more financial or legal damage are now no longer a matter of debate as they are not considered unlawful. Not paying taxes, getting loans written off, ruining institutions by appointing unfit people and taking advantage of your position or office are all normal, everyday routines that are acceptable to the public in general.
Human beings are creatures of habit and the human mind gets used to most with the passage of time. Over a period of time, the belief system of our society has changed by seeing so much happening in an unprincipled manner yet nobody being able to do anything about it. Most people do a mental withdrawal and accept it as an inevitable part of living in a country that they have long ago given up upon. When a society starts assessing things on what is the degree of wrongness rather than on what is the degree of rightness then it will keep on lowering its threshold of tolerance and adopt the lesser evil attitude. Any talk of the lesser evil being also bad is considered unrealistic, bookish and misplaced idealism. Such a belief system manifests itself in frustration and random cynicism where it is easy to mock and dismiss any attempt at fighting for what is right. Such talk is categorised as immature insanity. This creates spiritual bankruptcy, causing people to go through the motions of living without really fighting and striving for better.
Even the most factual science theory states that the mind dictates actions to the body. Thus, the inaction that we see in many suppressed countries is due to the mental subjugation to this belief that we can only get worse. This is precisely what Pakistan is going through. People in positions of power are now accepted as being corrupt and incorrigible, and the scandal and scam tolerance level associated with them is almost unlimited. Though financial scams are the ones that take the eye, it is positional abuse that takes the cake. For example, the last government had this huge scandal associated with the prime minister of rental power plants being commissioned at almost Rs 200 billion. This case became a symbol of big leaders and big scams. In comparison, the present government has always claimed that it has done no corruption. However, the financial decay caused due to breaking laws and the Constitution, and appointing people of no merit is much more devastating financially than the figure stated above.
Consider this: in 2013, the financial year’s circular debt retirement amounted to Rs 480 billion. A large amount to pay this off was procured by printing money that caused inflation to jump and billions of rupees to lose value, sending millions below the poverty line of living on less than two dollars a day. Also, there is a constitutional requirement of doing a pre-audit before sanctioning it, which was not adhered to and thus the allocation was made to the IPPs on the whims and fancies of the minister of finance, who has been asked to do a transparent audit and explain where the money went but, to date, no audit is forthcoming. This has resulted in circular debt rearing its ugly head again, now crossing Rs 300 billion. To make up for this paid yet not paid circular debt, the government overbilled consumers to the amount of Rs 70 billion and then put surcharges and taxes on consumers again, without getting them through parliament, worth Rs 300 billion. With simple math in just one area, this amounts to Rs 850 billion. This figure is more than three times the rental power scandal but has not been perceived so because it is being packaged as being emergency measures to overcome the crisis; the explanation given by the finance minister is that if a few deviations are being made it is at best just being legally illegal or illegally legal. This creates enough complication and confusion for the ordinary masses. They keep on giving the benefit of the doubt to the government as they cannot assign a solid, big, quantitative chunk being taken as commission on a notorious project. Add the cost of hiring incompetent cronies and paying them phenomenal salaries plus the many cronies that they in turn hire that bleed the organisation to death.
The Pakistan State Oil (PSO) head, who was finally axed, had in 18 months earned a salary of over Rs five million per month that amounted in just cash terms to Rs 90 million. If a rough calculation is made of such appointments and the salaries given to them, it will easily surpass the Rs 200 billion that gave such shocks to the public when the rental power plants were brought to court. Take any institution, be it the police, electricity, public enterprises, gas, oil, etc, and we will find such invisible yet invasive corruption going on routinely. This is known as viral corruption; it is all around us but its bacteria is not identifiable and catchable, yet the damage to the system is lethal.
We all rue the obvious losses of robbery, embezzlements and bomb blasts, etc, but the real loss is losing the sense of loss. It is amazing how indifferent we have become to the news of 10 or 15 people dying daily on roads and in blasts; we fleetingly feel sorry but then move on. It has to be a number like the 140 children at the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar to move us to emergency action. Similarly, corruption of a few billions is taken for granted and is acceptable; it takes a scandal of hundreds of billions of rupees in one go to come to the fore to make us aghast and undertake some action. This is what we call being comfortably numb and it is this state of mind in a society that encourages wrong to become right.