At no. 32 on Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions index, Pakistan is considered a high-risk country for corruption during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the pandemic, Transparency International estimated that corruption in the health sector cost at least USD $500 billion a year globally and killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. With such a large number of lives at stake, combating corruption is not merely necessary, but essential.
At the onset of the pandemic, Pakistan’s federal government set aside a total of Rs.1240 billion (USD $7.5 billion) for emergency relief services to combat Covid-19. This budget included – but was not limited to – funds set aside for the emergency procurement of medical supplies, relief packages for vulnerable groups, relief measures on essential food items, gas subsidies, payment of wheat, and relief to exporters and small and medium businesses. However, due to emergency provisioning of goods during this time, rules of public procurement have been compromised. Allegations of a lack of transparency were made evident in several statements by the Supreme Court in their hearings on suo moto action regarding the coronavirus. The Supreme Court also questioned the quality of quarantine services provided by hospitals, after learning that quarantine centers lacked basic facilities including running water and clean bathrooms. The Chief Justice observed that there are ample resources available, but that they are not being fully utilized to help the public.
Combating corruption in Pakistan will require many different sectors to come together to fight the normalization of graft. Through education, civic involvement, legal action and the digitization of information, Pakistan can ensure greater transparency and improve its standing in the global Corruption Perceptions Index. This article enumerates five steps the country can take to tackle corruption during COVID-19.