Ignored facts about Pakistan’s CPI ranking
(Shahzad Ahmad) During PML-N’s electioneering on Saturday, former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif reiterated that Pakistan Democratic Alliance (PDM) government under his leadership caused a “notable advancement” in Pakistan’s ranking on the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) for 2023 as it displayed improvement of seven-positions compared to the preceding year.
As per the report released by Transparency International (TI) last Tuesday, the majority of nations have demonstrated minimal to no advancements in addressing corruption within the public sector while Pakistan’s ranking on the CPI rose from 140 out of 180 countries in 2022 to 133 in 2023 with an overall score improvement from 27 to 29 out of 100.
The CPI assesses the perceived corruption levels in a country’s public sector by utilising a scale ranging from zero to 100. In this respect, zero means high corruption and 100 signifies a very clean system.
Commenting on the report about Pakistan’s performance, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader claimed that under Imran Khan’s four-year rule, corruption had reached at its unprecedented levels but it was curtailed by him after he assumed the role of prime minister.
Contrary to the PML-N leader’s claim, the credit of the minor decrease in the menace may be attributed to the Elections Act 2017 which curtails the powers of caretaker government as the positive shift in ranking suggests a decrease in corruption during the last year’s seven-month tenure of the PDM-led government.
On August 14, 2023, Anwaarul Haq Kakar was inaugurated as Pakistan’s caretaker prime minister as he took the oath of office in a solemn ceremony held at Aiwan-e-Sadr.
His designation as the interim prime minister was officially unveiled on August 12, following a series of deliberations involving former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif and the former opposition leader in the National Assembly Raja Riaz.
During the last five months of 2023 – from August 14 to December 31 – the caretaker government was not empowered to enter into major development contracts or other functions which provide opportunities for corruption. Resultantly, slight advancement in Pakistan’s standing on the CPI for 2023 was witnessed.
The powers of caretaker government are defined under Section 230 of Election Act 2017 as its sub-section (2) proposes that the caretaker Government shall not take major policy decisions except on urgent matters. The law stops the caretaker government from taking any decision or making a policy that may have effect or pre-empt the exercise of authority by the future elected Government.
The caretaker government cannot enter into major contract not undertake if it is detrimental to public interest. It cannot enter into major international negotiation with any foreign country or international agency not it can sign or ratify any international binding instrument except in an exceptional case.
The caretaker government is also barred from making promotions or major appointments of public officials but may make acting or short term appointments in public interest. It cannot transfer public officials unless it is considered expedient and after approval of the Commission. Finally, it cannot make effort to influence the elections or do or cause to be done anything which may, in any manner, influence or adversely affect the free and fair elections.
Similarly, Section 230(1) of Election Act 2017 provides functions of caretaker government. Under this provision, a caretaker government is empowered to perform its functions to attend to day-to-day matters which are necessary to run the affairs of the Government. It is empowered to assist the Commission to hold elections in accordance with law. It restricts itself to activities that are of routine, non-controversial and urgent, in the public interest and reversible by the future Government elected after the elections. It has to be impartial to every person and political party.
Thus, the law related to the limited powers and functions of the caretaker government negates the PML-N leader’s claim that his party’s government’s performance caused decrease in corruption.
Also the 2022 CPI report released by the anti-corruption watchdog in December 2023 highlighted an increase in corruption during the shared rule of Shehbaz and Imran.
On April 11, 2022, the parliament elected Shahbaz Sharif as the new prime minister, following a week of political turmoil that led to the weekend ouster of Imran Khan.
During its eight-month government in 2022, the PDM failed to make any improvement on the CPI as the country ranked 140 out of 180 countries and Pakistan’s position remained unchanged from the last year. It was revealed by Transparency International in its report released in 2023.
The data released for CPI 2023 revealed that during the shared government of the PDM and the caretakers in 2023, Pakistan’s ranking was 133 out of 180 countries while the CPI score was 29 out of 100. The period of 2022 covering the governments of PTI and PDM, the ranking was 140 out of 180 countries, with CPI score of 27 out of 100 countries.
Noting the improvement in Pakistan’s score in the Index, the Chair of Transparency International Pakistan Zia Perwez said the government policies aimed at better governance and effective enforcement of the laws were likely to yield positive results in future, as well as through implementation of the Transparency International’s recommendations.
Caretaker governments were neither mentioned in the 1973 Constitution, nor in the 1956 and 1962 Constitutions. In 1985, the concept of caretaker governments was included in the 1973 Constitution by Gen Ziaul Haq.
Originally, the 1973 Constitution stated that after the dissolution or completion of the National Assembly or provincial assembly term, the executive heads of the government, including the prime minister and the cabinet, would continue to hold office until the elections.
Through the 18th Amendment in 2010, clause 1 of Article 224 was substituted with the current clauses, 1a and 1b. Article 224(1a) reads “On dissolution of the Assembly on completion of its term, or in case it is dissolved under Article 58 or Article 112, the President, or the Governor, as the case may be, shall appoint a caretaker Cabinet.”
As the constitutional provisions mention that the caretaker government is not so powerful to do corrupt practices at large scale, the credit of small decrease in the corrupt practices in the country does not go to the last elected government.
On July 26, 2023, just days before the inauguration of caretaker government, a joint session of the Parliament approved amendments to the Election Act 2017, granting the caretaker government powers to take actions or decisions regarding ongoing bilateral or multilateral agreements and projects. It is important to note that even after the amendment, the caretakers are not empowered to sign new bilateral or multilateral agreements and projects. It can only take actions or decision regarding the projects or agreement already signed by the election governments.
In the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2023, it had been proposed that Sub-clauses 1 and 2 of Section 230 of the Election Act related to the functioning of the caretaker government were amended.
Under the amendments, the interim setup has been empowered to take action on the ongoing bilateral and multilateral agreements.
In addition, the PML-N had introduced an amendment to empower the interim setup to have powers similar to that of an elected government by proposing changes to Section 230 of Election Act. Its purpose was to broaden the caretaker setup’s remit significantly and to empower it to handle regular governance affairs and urgent matters. However, the parliament rejected that proposal.
PPP Senator Raza Rabbani had opposed the PML-N’s proposal, saying that the powers of elected government should not be granted to the caretaker government.
Also PTI Senator Ali Zafar had opposed the amendment saying that a caretaker government could not replace an elected representative government. He had said, “The sole responsibility of the caretaker government is to hold fair, transparent and timely elections. The caretaker government can only run the day-to-day administrative affairs of the country.”
Moreover, the 2023 CPI has revealed that most countries had made little to no progress in tackling public sector corruption. With more than two-thirds of countries scoring below 50, the CPI global average remains unchanged at 43 for the 12th year in a row.
It has also revealed that Denmark maintains its position as the least corrupt country with a score of 90, while Somalia tops the list as the most corrupt with a score of 11.
Continuing to assert its position as the least corrupt country, Denmark secures the top spot for the sixth consecutive year with an impressive score of 90.
The least corrupt countries include: Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg and Ireland. Conversely, Somalia emerges as the most corrupt nation, garnering a score of 11.
Hungary was ranked as the most corrupt country in the EU for the second straight year, according to the 29th annual CPI report.
On a scale of 0-100, Hungary scored 43 points followed by Bulgaria and Romania with 45 and 46 points, respectively. Its global ranking improved by one notch to 76th, placing the country in the group of countries such as Bahrain, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Moldova, Northern Macedonia and China.
Besides Pakistan, the report said, eight countries improved on the CPI during that same period: Ireland (77), South Korea (63), Armenia (46), Vietnam (42), the Maldives (40), Moldova (39), Angola (33) and Uzbekistan (31).
Strengthening the notion, also the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has recently taken notice of the promotion of development projects by the caretaker governments and sought a report from the Chief Secretaries of four provinces. ECP spokesman has rightly stated that the caretaker governments were running campaign in the form of advertisements for development projects, which is likely to affect the conduct of fair and transparent elections.
The spokesperson further said that ‘Green Bus Service’ campaign in Sindh was being carried out, and clarified that caretaker governments are bound to work within the law. The ECP directed the chief secretaries of all the provinces to ensure that no development projects were advertised until the general elections were conducted.
Thus, the restrictions imposed by the law on the powers and functions of the caretaker government, the PDM’s performance, caused this slight improvement in the country’s standing on CPI for 2023.