One reads with amusement a report by Transparency International Pakistan, which reveals it has been getting complaints against 18 registrar offices in Karachi, who have allegedly been receiving a bribe of Rs20,000 to Rs500,000 on each and every property registration.
According to Transparency International (TI), a recent report in a newspaper also indicated an allegation by a citizen that one, Rafiq Gopang of the Gulshan-e-Iqbal office, demanded from him a bribe of Rs200,000 for registration of purchase of his house. TI has written a letter addressed to the Sindh chief secretary on the matter.
In the letter, it says over one hundred properties are sold or purchased daily in each district, and on an average, Rs30,000 bribe is taken on each transaction, making the daily bribe intake for one office to be around Rs5 crore.
TI calls these serious accusations and calls upon the chief secretary to curb this illegal practice through which citizens of Karachi are blackmailed to pay annual bribes of Rs1.5 billion.
What is amusing about this report is that TI expects the chief secretary to take action. Officials in the Sindh government would rather get a transfer than take action against this practice, which fuels and feeds not just the likes of Gopang, who get a slice of the pie, but the high and mighty, who put him there in the first place.
Possibly, the most corrupt government machinery in Pakistan today is in Sindh, headed by a chief minister under whose leadership, the province stands at the brink of moral and financial bankruptcy.
The whole practice of bribing revenue officials starts with under-declaring the value of property and showing it to be almost 60 per cent of the actual market price. Thus, the levies imposed on such a property are significantly lower. In exchange, the revenue official also charges a levy of his own, which he shares with his superiors, in a chain that goes all the way to the top.
The practice is not restricted to Sindh. It is prevalent in most provinces, only that the highest evasion takes place in Karachi because this is where most properties are bought and sold. In the current arrangement, the only entity suffering is the government, which is deprived of billions of rupees in revenues.
The problem of corruption runs far deeper. We are a country where the government works only on the basis of bribery and corruption. Transfers, postings, appointments are made only after bribes are given. Contracts, payments and purchases are all done in the same manner. One can only wonder how long such a system can continue.
Possibly, the time has come to take a long and hard look at how government is run. Revenue collection may best be privatised, along with other government services and facilities.
In the past, the Bhutto government had tried to privatise customs tariff collection. But the powerful bureaucracy reacted violently and the whole affair was shown to be an attempt by the then government to award a contract under dubious circumstances. Every time we try to take away the powers of the bureaucracy, it reacts with a vengeance. But now we are hollow from within.
Maybe it’s time to take the bull by the horns. Let us start by privatising the FBR and the revenue function of the government. After setting targets, let us give the responsibility of tax collection to private contractors, the same way we give our contracts for toll and parking fees collection.
Initially, the high and mighty will try and bully their way into not paying as they do when they are asked to pay parking fees. But then, the noose can be tightened. Let us support tax raids and a survey of property on the same lines that the Musharraf government started in 1999, but was then forced to abandon.
Excise collection — be it collection from motorists in the form of motor vehicle licensing and other levies should also be privatised and taken away from the politicians. In Sindh, for example, the excise department collects little for the government and more for itself.
We can start raising revenues in small but decisive steps. The other challenge, of course, would be to spend the income wisely. This means no building of Rawind Mahal at state expense or hiring of near and dear ones to government positions.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 30th, 2014.