There’s a fascinating interview with Imran Khan in today’s Guardian. Those of you who remember him as one of the great cricketers of his generation may also know that, after a career as a sportsman and international playboy, he discovered God (or, to be more accurate, Allah) and politics, has set up his own party and immersed himself in the complex politics of Pakistan.
He is, of course, electioneering, and the tone of the interview reflects this but it’s interesting to hear someone who candidly acknowledges that Pakistan is being severely damaged by corruption. Quotes such as:
“We will cut down expenditure, tax the rich and fight corruption. The reason we’re bankrupt is because of corruption. Asif Ali Zardari [Pakistan’s current president] puts his cronies on top and they literally siphon off money”
pull no punches, but they also posit an interesting question, namely: are we encouraging corruption by paying foreign aid to countries where it is impossible to validate where the money ends up?
It also underlines another important point. Corruption is often spoken of as a “victimless crime” and the widespread tendency to accept payment of bribes as part of the cost of doing business in certain markets is, to an extent, fed by this perception. In reality, as Khan reminds us, the cost of corruption can be seen in impoverished third-world nations with plutocratic rulers and bankrupt economies. Every Pound (or Dollar, or whatever) that is paid as a bribe helps to stifle enterprise, institutionalise corruption and thereby impoverish ordinary people who can ill afford to pay bribes but whose life is made intolerable if they don’t.
Prosperous First World businesses don’t like paying bribes of course, because it depletes their bottom line, but it’s easy to forget that the real cost of corruption is borne by those least able to afford it. It’s difficult for me to put this point across without sounding overly pious, but if Imran is saying it, I feel I’m in good company.