Neutral, impartial and independent?

June 18th, The Friday Times

The three principles of international humanitarian action have long been held to be neutrality, impartiality and independence and Transparency International comes under the purview of these principles of humanitarian action.

There have been major criticisms levelled at the 2010 National Corruption Survey by Transparency International Pakistan (TIP) in the media, for example that the report has an unfair bias and targets the PPP government unfairly.

Imran Khan for one in The News (June 9), questions the sampling of TIP saying, “The 2009 survey differs from the other two when it comes to the provincial sample size. In 2002 and 2005, the sample size for each province was somewhat reflective of its overall population proportion in Pakistan. But in 2009, each province had the same sample size, 1,300.”

The questions in the survey are qualitative and subject to value judgments. For example, Imran Khan points out the question: Which provincial government was cleaner, the present (2008-10) or the past? This will obviously reflect the political allegiances of the respondents. Thus in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the ANP has been declared as the most corrupt government based on respondents perceptions. Furthermore, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa surveys were carried out in the four urban cities of Peshawer, Mansehra, Abbotabad, and Haripur. A verdict against the ANP from this sample is quite understandable in these areas and makes the survey partial and non-neutral.

Another issue highlighted is that of the bribery figures. Daily Times (June 3) reports that according to TIP, Rs 195 billion was misappropriated during 2009 while more than Rs 223 billion has been misappropriated during 2010. The year being only half over, this is figure is obviously inconclusive.

The three principles of international humanitarian action have long been held to be neutrality, impartiality and independence and Transparency International comes under the purview of these principles of humanitarian action.

Transparency International in fact has its own handbook on preventing corruption in operations, to internally and externally promote good practices that at various places clear stares anticipating corruption risks associated with social political contexts, for example, “Programme planning should contain explicit reference to reducing the risk of corruption, via internal control mechanisms (audits, separation of duties and whistle-blowing or complaint mechanisms) and by understanding and preparing for external risks.” The handbook asks the agency worker to carry out political economy and risk analyses of the program region and identify representatives of specific community groups to consult, ensuring minority and female participation so lower-status people are fully involved.

Transparency International has had a sound reputation for being impartial worldwide. We can’t say for certain, whether the problems with the Pakistan survey’s design are to serve a political purpose or are just flaws to be improved on. There is a lot of space TIP has to cover. Addressing corruption risks requires an understanding of the local political economy and the power structures that control access to resources or beneficiaries i.e. ‘gatekeepers’ who can be very influential on the research program being carried out. Practice guidelines for such operations and research dictate that the agency be “as open as possible to the entire community, reducing the risk that resources are captured by dominant groups.” This is obviously a difficult task but an even more essential task when responsibility for surveys is given to third parties (like the Institute of Business Administration Karachi and Gift University Gujranwala who conducted the surveys). What TIP may have to work on is creating a neutral image in Pakistan and extricate itself from any political connotations that are becoming associated with it if it wants to be taken seriously. This is an important part of being a “transparent”, impartial, watchdog.

Yet, with all the criticisms, can anyone say corruption is not a huge problem in Pakistan? Sure the methodology used may not be as flawless as we want it to be, the sample size may be small; yet the report tries to do its job of being a watchdog and pointing a finger at some core areas of corruption in the country. Humanitarian principles are principles and not international laws. Just like this survey is based on perceptions of corruption and not actual corruption. This of course does not mean that TIP should not emulate the globally held principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence; or that corruption in Pakistan is less than what is perceived.

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