Anti-corruption drive ‘hitting Pakistan economy’

9 Jul 19

Critics of an anti-corruption campaign launched by Pakistan’s leader have said it is damaging the economy as officials fearful of being suspected put projects on hold.

The crusade launched by prime minister Imran Khan – who won elections last year promising to root out graft – has resulted in scores of arrests of veteran politicians.

However, according to the Reuters news agency, business leaders have said the drive may be hurting an ailing economy and decision-making is grinding to a halt as civil servants avoid making decisions that could expose them to bribery accusations. 

“If a project works out, I don’t get a gold medal,” a senior federal official told the news agency. “But if it doesn’t work out, I might go to jail.”

There have been longstanding calls for a major effort to clean up politics in Pakistan and the campaign led by the National Accountability Bureau has many supporters.

However, the way in which it has proceeded so far – apparently targeting the Khan government’s political enemies – has led to accusations that it is one-sided, a charge the government denies.

Khan’s administration has also rejected accusations that the anti-corruption drive is hurting the economy, saying existing graft is to blame for the country’s economic problems. 

The IMF announced on 3 July that it will lend Pakistan $6bn to stabilise the currency and plug the current account deficit – which in April it put at close to 8% – saying the economy is at a “critical juncture”. 

The fund argues that the legacy of economic mismanagement – including large fiscal deficits, loose monetary policy, and an overvalued exchange rate – fuelled consumption and short-term growth but swelled public debt and depleted international reserves.

In June the NAB arrested former president Asif Ali Zardari and his sister on allegations that they operated false bank accounts and were involved in money laundering. Both deny wrongdoing and claim the move is politically motivated. 

The NAB has also targeted the jailed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, and investigated his brother and close allies including at least eight former ministers, all of whom deny wrongdoing.

Khan has also launched a commission to investigate government projects and deals that increased overall debt between 2008–2018. 

  • Gavin O'Toole, expert on Latin America
    Gavin O'Toole

    A freelance journalist. He has written six books about Latin America and taught the politics of the region at Queen Mary, University of London.

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