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If corruption is not tackled urgently, Pakistan won’t get the money it needs

To begin with, where did President Ali Zardari get his personal fortune of £1.5 billion? I only ask

By on Friday, 27 August 2010

A camp set up by the Pakistan Army for the thousands displaced by the flood (Photo: AP)

A camp set up by the Pakistan Army for the thousands displaced by the flood (Photo: AP)

Last week, I mentioned the generally grossly inadequate international reaction to the vast needs of flood victims in Pakistan. The main reason, I wrote then, was the fact that “quite simply, nobody believes the money will get to those who need it”. Everyone knows that there is corruption in Pakistan: the government itself is riddled with it. According to a report submitted by the auditor general of Pakistan, “the government… spent atrocious amounts of money on some pointless issues, and corruption was rapidly engulfing the institutions and departments” (my italics).

Meanwhile, millions are homeless and Pakistan’s infrastructure has been devastated. If signs of reconstruction do not get off the ground rapidly after the floods subside, political destabilisation could lead to disastrous consequences for all of us. The trouble is that if the problem of corruption is not addressed urgently, the funds for reconstruction will simply not materialise.

Only $250 million has been delivered out of the $5.7 billion pledged by the US and other nations at an international donor conference in Tokyo before the floods, which began in July. Many times that sum is now needed urgently; and the confrontation of the problem of corruption has become many times more urgent, too. For a start, what about that £1.5 billion which is the personal fortune of President Ali Zardari: where exactly did that come from? And how much of it will he be giving to flood relief?

The answer, almost certainly, will have to be some sort of independent and internationally recognised system of auditing all aid given. But who is to organise it, how is it to be done? And how quickly can it be done? Already, the Obama administration was planning to send teams of US auditors to Pakistan to scrutinise how aid money was being spent; Pakistani accounting firms trained to apply US accounting standards were to be hired to audit aid recipients.

Perhaps some such system could be generally and above all quickly applied: and then international government aid should flow quickly to where it is needed. This is urgent: political instability could lead to an Islamist state in possession of nuclear bombs and weaponry. Everyone already fears a military coup. That might even be the least bad option: and if it happens, I hope the new government will ask President Ali Zardari where he got his money from, before he swans off to exile in his chateau.