China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) related projects are moving full throttle. Despite doubts, aspersions and apprehensions — largely driven by external forces — the pace of implementation of most of the energy and infrastructure projects is unusual for the Pakistani circumstances. (the new Islamabad airport for instance has been under construction for over a decade).
CPEC — besides giving a huge shot in the arm to Pakistan’s fledgling economy — is synonymous to economic development i.e. employment, connectivity and productivity opportunities. But it also carries risks such as abuse of these opportunities by unscrupulous Chinese and Pakistani groups and people whose prime motivation for involvement would be purely profiteering by hook or by crook. This represents one of the biggest pitfalls in the way of CPEC implementation.
Chinese leadership is very well aware of this pitfall and thus anti-corruption campaign was one of the major agenda items when President Xi Jinping assumed power. He was fully conscious that crooked Chinese businessmen and corrupt party and military officials had amassed wealth through abuse of power and many had escaped to the western financial safe havens.
The Chinese government under President Jinping has in fact run massive media campaigns as well as vigorously pursued party and government officials tainted with allegations of corruption.
No wonder therefore that China’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) has in the last four years penalised 440 senior level officials of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Besides, as many as 8,900 city-level officials and over 63,000 county-level too have been taken to task — either dismissed, arrested or punished for corruption and involvement in malpractices. An additional 278,000 grassroots level party members and officials, too were dealt with administratively to discourage corrupt practices. As many 3,453 fugitives from law were arrested and the government managed to put top 100 fugitives on an Interpol red notice. As many as 48 Chinese who had amassed wealth and immigrated to the US, Canada or Europe — have already been arrested.
The list of China’s anti-corruption measures is long and impressive and underscores that top Chinese leaders are cognizant of the propensity to abuse power — appropriation of public money or stealing through private contracts — has existed in that country and that is why the President turned it into his reforms’ agenda. It has worked so far.
It will therefore make sense for President Xi and his colleagues to warn their countrymen, officials and businessmen associated with CPEC against corrupt practices. The CPEC is too important for both countries to be left to the greed and selfish whims of individuals. It requires strong checks and balances to prevent pilferage and theft of public money by the Chinese and Pakistani functionaries and businesses alike.
In November last year, both countries signed a MoU for cooperation on matters related to corruption. Former NAB Chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry and the Chinese Minister of Supervision and Inspection Huang Shuxian had signed the MoU in Beijing, hoping this would serve as a deterrent against systemic graft.
One wonders if any formal steps have at all been taken to prevent corrupt practices at official and private level because there is no dearth of self-serving and devious officials and businessmen in both countries.
The MoU on corruption is supposed to jointly monitor the all projects underway to ensure transparency and avoid chances of corruption.
Media reports had suggested that almost all road projects of the CPEC are being executed by Pakistan’s National Highway Authority (NHA) and given rise to concerns about alleged irregularities and discrepancies have been committed.
All those Chinese leaders and officials who are sticking their necks out to promote CPEC and to push bilateral economic and political interests will do great bilateral service if they could push for instant implementation of joint anti-graft mechanisms.
We know that graft and corrupt practices entail severe punishments. We need to create a similar framework here in Pakistan too. Because anything that goes wrong in Pak-China economic cooperation, the blame is advertently shifted to China. Such allegations sully the image of China more than it does to Pakistan. Chinese officials need to impress upon their Pakistani counterparts the need for ruthless accountability of any body found involved in practices that tarnish the image of China and Pakistan and thus provides the enemy with more ammunition to cast aspersions on this unparalleled cooperation.
The writer is Editor, Strategic Affairs, and also heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad and author of Pakistan: Pivot of Hizbu Tahrir’s Global Caliphate. Can be reached at Imtiaz@crss.pk
Published in Daily Times, December 14th 2017.