By Ghazala Akbar:
Leaders from over 183 countries are arriving in Islamabad for the glittering opening ceremony of the first ever Olympiad of Corruption to be held in the Pakistani capital. The prestige event is expected to boost the country’s flagging economy and showcase Pakistan’s long-standing image as a serious player in the world-wide corruption league.
‘This international recognition is the icing on the cake’ said an un-named Government official. ‘For years we have had the distinction of featuring regularly in the Corruption Perception Index prepared by Transparency International but we have not gained the acknowledgment we deserve.’
‘Some detractors even tried to throw our carefully-nurtured reputation off-track by labeling us the most dangerous place on earth. Others said we were the epicenter of terrorism. That is simply not true. It is corruption that we have always been famous for…and will always remain so’ said the official speaking via telephone from his bullet-proof vehicle.
The battle for the venue was a hard and closely-fought contest between several countries in Asia, Africa and some in the Western hemisphere. Eventually the list was whittled down to just four countries, with Pakistan facing some serious competition from India, Nigeria and Bangladesh.
During the selection process, the committee received presentations from the four finalists. They were treated to an impressive portfolio of past and present examples of systemic and institutionalized corruption in law enforcement, procurement and provision of government services.
India nearly pipped Pakistan to the post when the extent and scope of its Telecommunication scandal were revealed. The numbers — running into billions of dollars lost to its national exchequer were breath taking. ‘We are on the way up’ said the Indians. ‘We don’t think small anymore’. India also had recent experience of hosting international events with a successful Asian Games under its belt. The Pay-offs were staggering.
Bangladesh too had a strong case for hosting the Olympiad with recent revelations by the World Bank of ‘commissions’ demanded over the construction of a bridge on the Padma River. ‘These are part and parcel of the game’ one Bangladeshi official said. ‘Can’t understand what the fuss is all about. It’s not as if commissions haven’t been paid before to other regimes. We will just have to find another lender,’ said the official licking his lips.
Nigeria’s credentials were artfully presented by the authors of the infamous ‘Nigerian Letter’. This is the clever little scam that invites potential ‘investors’ to reveal details of their Bank Accounts over the internet. ‘You wouldn’t believe the amount of people in Western Europe that have fallen for this,’ bragged the Nigerians.
In the end it was Pakistan’s public institutions, their long and sustained record in the field plus the exponential growth in the last few years that tipped the scales in its favour. From small bribes to large scale loot and plunder, Pakistan’s track record is simply stunning belying its unfounded reputation as a ‘failed state’.
Scores of 2.5 in 2011, 2.3 in 2010, and 2.5 in 2009 is a positive indication of the upward trajectory of the country’s progress in the corruption tables. The Corruption Perception Index issued by Transparency International ranks countries based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. A country’s score is measured on a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 means ‘highly corrupt’ and 10 perceived as ‘very clean’. The figures speak for themselves. Perception is everything.
The members of the reviewing committee were simply bowled over by the scale and breadth of the works-in-progress in Pakistan. ‘Whether it is one-off scams like the provision of Ephedrine drugs, Hajj Pilgrimage for the masses, Rental power plants, or long-term corruption in State -controlled companies like Pakistan Steel Mills, Pakistan Railways, NICL or PIA — there is a level of sophistication we have not seen in other countries’ said a committee member fingering his gold-plated, diamond- encrusted Rolex.
‘Your guys even managed to compromise and bribe the son of the crusading Judge holding you to task! Wow! That takes some doing!’ said the official whistling in admiration. ‘The world has much to learn from Pakistan’s ruling elites. They make us look like pygmies,’ said another member from The Democratic Republic of Congo, shaking his head in awe. ‘We are way behind you’.
In view of security concerns and the odd Drone attack, the main events of the Corruption Olympiad will be held at the National Convention Centre in Islamabad. Repeated power-outages will not be a problem as the contract for uninterrupted supply has been awarded to a reputable company on the PM’s personal recommendation.
A range of challenging activities has been prepared by the hosts. Broadly the events will fall into two categories: Corruption of Need and Corruption of Greed. The former relates to instances of petty corruption by minor state and private functionaries while the latter involves high-profile events on a national and international scale.
The highlight of the Olympiad will be a Swiss letter – writing competition. Instead of actually writing a letter to re-open cases of corruption as demanded by the Supreme Court, participants will have to come up with ingenious ways of avoiding the letter-writing exercise. The best excuse wins.
Another challenging event is the ‘Changa Maanga’ political race. This involves bribing a group of ‘uncommitted’ legislators and confining them to a house in Chaanga Maanga. The object of the game is to keep them in protective custody long enough to prevent them from receiving a higher counter offer from a political rival.
‘Lifafah Journalism’ is another intriguing event. Participants are asked to discreetly place cash-stuffed envelopes on the desks of selected media personnel in order to get a favourable write-up or ask ‘planted’ questions on TV Talk Shows. The point of the game is to pick out which questions are fake and which are genuine while surfing channels or reading between the lines on Op-Ed pieces.
Other events include the ‘Fake Degree’ competition where participants have to draft and forge a perfect educational degree in record time with the fewest errors. Creativity and Numeracy are essential here as embarrassing mistakes can occur: one degree showed the holder to have begun their schooling at age zero.
As expected, some religious sections will be boycotting the Olympiad. ‘We have no objection to holding the event in principal as we are not averse to making money but we are protesting against the name. Olympiad has an unfortunate connection to Mount Olympus, the home of the Greek Gods. This is not in conformity with our religious beliefs…we are monotheists as you know’ explained a spokesman.
‘We are also opposed to the design of the Olympic flag. Symbols of decadent Western currencies, the Dollar, Pound, French Franc, Deutschmark and the Greek Drachma repeated endlessly…and tastelessly, smack of Imperialism and hegemony. Where is the Saudi Riyal? Some of us prefer to be paid in Islamic currencies! There has to be some balance.’
In keeping with the animal theme of the regular Olympics, the mascot of the Corruption Olympiad is a smiling hydra-headed serpent. Sales of merchandise bearing the logo are booming. A theme song based on the old Liza Minnelli hit ‘Money makes the world go round’ has also been released. Royalties will not be paid to the singer of the original.
‘Copyright? Poppycock! You can buy Pirate copies of the latest Hollywood films…who cares about paying royalties for a forty-year-old song… ha ha’ said an official in mock horror.
The Corruption Olympiad will run for two weeks. There will be no breaks for the Holy Month of Ramadan. However it is expected widely that some of the profits generated will go to charity. ‘Our people don’t like paying taxes to the State, but we do give a lot to charity. We have to think of the next world. After all you can’t take it all with you’ said the unnamed official. ‘I might even take the family for Hajj next year… not on a Government-sponsored scheme, mind you. They are known to be rip-offs! Is nothing sacred, I ask you?’
Tickets for the Olympiad are by invitation only.