The power crisis, law-and-order situation and political instability are the ones most notably faced by stakeholders. That being said, there is one more obstacle, which although has received significant attention, it still remains the most ignored amongst them all: bureaucratic bribery.
A few instances come to my mind when I think about the issue, the first: paying a government department peon to forward your file, on top of the stack of the pending hundreds, to the relevant official. This does not mean your issue would be resolved, that’s a different matter altogether, it just means it would be taken up to address. For the solution itself, you will once again have to reach out to the official handling it.
This is just one instance of the major road-block which pulls back Pakistan’s economic growth; bureaucratic inefficiencies.
Its one thing to pay under the table fees to get something done unlawfully, but paying to get through routine bureaucratic processes is something completely different, and much more frustrating. It’s astonishing how expensive it is to just exercise your rights.
For example, getting the transfer of ownership for a vehicle could take you weeks if done the standard way. Some hurdle or the other is inevitably brought up, labeled as a missing requirement or a documentary inconsistency, while if you are willing to pay; the process is a quick, smooth one.
On the commercial front, one could ask a businessman how hard it is to receive his stated tax refund.
Citizens at large have accepted this system. No one contests it for sheer inconvenience, or for the fear of a backlash at a later time.
This system is very deep-rooted, and goes further now than just getting routine tasks completed as for the right price; you can get any work done.
Getting pulled over by the traffic police, and I can count on my fingers the number of people who actually submit documents for a traffic ticket. Why get into the hassle when you can just pay the official a sum lower than the ticket itself and get away with it? Makes sense if you are in a hurry to get to work or home, but on a macro-scale, this is the moral and ethical erosion of our nation.
While it may not seem very disturbing on a personal level; we all push the status quo at some point as we’re not all aiming revolutionaries. But the real nail in our moral coffin is the institutional corruption that it gives rise to.
Ask a lot of businessmen candidly, and they say getting permission for larger projects is an arduous process, especially in the power and construction sectors. The ‘process overheads’ can go as high a 5 per cent on large projects, so if you’re talking about a project worth $100 million, it comes out to be $5 million. In local terms, that’s Rs450 million. So in cost terms, not only are these costs inflationary, but for many ethical foreign corporations there are no basis for justifying such payments. Even on the record-keeping front, it is very hard to explain and validate to external auditors.
Government contractors face the worst brunt. Whenever I hit a bump on an unlevelled, uncompleted road, it not only hurts my car but also any patriotic feeling I may hold. Interrogate a contractor, and he will blame it on the bureaucracy.
“How can we complete a job effectively if 15 to 20 per cent of the budget goes back to the officials?” said a contractor recently, when asked about the poor quality of his work. He stated that if a contractor wants to profit from a job, there is no way he can use quality materials, even if they are prescribed in the tender itself. What is worse, he stated, is the timeline for receiving payments on a completed job.
According to various contractors, a large chunk of the portion paid to officials is when they are in receipt of the final bills for payment. While resource shortages are quoted, hundreds of contractors have to go out of their way to please officials to get their payments released.
The worst aspect of this practice is that people accept this as status-quo, and individuals and businessmen begin to use it to their advantage. Whether it is satisfying a tender with cheaper, poor-quality materials or services, or whether it is paying notice server to state a document as undelivered, an easier way of getting things done, whether right or wrong, is by making an ethical or moral sacrifices and that is somehow more socially acceptable in our society.
As we say in Urdu, “Yeh toh karna hi parta hai” (You cannot avoid doing this). The question is how long will we go on like this? Unless there is a tipping point, things will only get worse. And the thought of worse, frankly, is just plain and simple scary.