Posts Tagged ‘Transparency International Pakistan’

Rumour Laundering and the Courts

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

The News reports on Wednesday that LHC has been petitioned to investigate the Punjab government’s laptop scheme and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz President Nawaz Sharif and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif are respondents in the petition. According to the news report,

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The petitioner submitted that as per a report of the Transparency International the laptop scheme launched by Shahbaz Sharif would cause a loss of Rs1.70 billion to the national exchequer.

However there is no such report of Transparency International about the laptop scheme. So what is the petitioner actually referring to? It appears that the petition may actually be based on anonymous claims in a media report.

We noted last week that the alleged TIP report is actually nothing but the statement of TIP Advisor Adil Gilani that he had read something in the media, and that the way the media transformed the headlines to imply that Transparency International Pakistan had done some actual research beyond buying a copy of Daily Times amounted to something like allegation laundering.

The effect of media being used to launder rumours are on full display with this new petition before LHC. Why did the petitioner mention Transparency International and not the original report by Adnan Adil which makes no mention of Transparency International or any other credible source? Would the Court be so moved by a petition that said, ‘anonymous claims in a news report’? Or will the Court be misled to believe that the Transparency International Pakistan advisor Adil Gilani has done anything but tell journalists that he read a newspaper story?

Laundering allegations is unprofessional because it can mislead the people into believing that rumours are facts. When the people being misled are judges, though, this raises the question of whether the courts are being manipulated by someone with an agenda. That’s not journalism, it’s propaganda.

Media, TIP, and Allegation Laundering

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

The Punjab government finds itself on the wrong side of Transparency International Pakistan (TIP) due to the controversial laptop scheme. According to multiple media reports, TIP Advisor Syed Adil Gilani has written a letter to provincial secretary of the Punjab Planning and Development Department requesting investigation of possible violation of Punjab Procurement Rules, 2009 and a loss of at least Rs. 1.7 billion to the exchequer. What caught our attention, though, was Mr Adil Gilani’s evidence: “allegations reported in the print media”.

The allegations referred to by TIP appears to be a report by Adnan Adil in Daily Times that raises some questions about the provincial government’s laptop scheme. But the original report itself actually raises some questions also. For example, how did Adnan Adil discover this information? According to his article he was told by anonymous ‘sources’.

Whether or not the allegations are true we do not know. What interests us is another side to this story – how the allegations have been ‘laundered’ in the media.

The original reporter Adnan Adil appears to have simply taken the claims of his mysterious ‘sources’ and published them as facts. TIP Advisor Adil Gilani then took the unsourced report and used it as the basis of a letter requesting an investigation. The media then took TIP’s letter and published new reports with sensational headlines like, ‘TIP smells Rs 1.7b rat in free laptop scheme’. What started out as unverified claims of mysterious ‘sources’ has now become a TIP anti-corruption campaign, even though it is no such thing – it remains a collection of unverified claims by unknown ‘sources’.

What has happened is essentially ‘allegation laundering’, similar to the way criminals engage in money laundering. Criminals don’t want the source of their funds to be known, so they create ‘shell’ companies that they invest in. These fake companies then turn around and invest the money in some legitimate scheme, and the proceeds of that investment appear to be legitimate even though they actually originated from criminal activity.

In this case, unverified claims from unknown sources were reported, then repeated by a known organisation, then reported again as being the concerns of the known organisation. Like the laundered money, their true source remains hidden.

Allegations are easy to make, and the media is filled with all types of claims. Some of us still remember when the Supreme Court called emergency hearings based on ‘allegations reported in the media’. Laundered allegations can never truly be clean. When these claims come from mysterious and unknown ‘sources’, it is the responsibility of journalists to ask whether they are being led by the nose in the pursuit of some agenda.

Transparently Ridiculous

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

With the Memogate dud finally fizzling out and the hearing on contempt charges against the PM not set until next week, it promised to be a slow news week. Right on cue, the old reliable story of corruption is back in the headlines again, at least at one media group. The latest headlines, though, are almost comical and may do more to harm than good the cause of exposing corruption.

The latest series of stories began last weekend when Ansar Abbasi reported for The News that “Pakistan has lost…more than Rs8,500 billion…during the last four years”. Abbasi’s source, for once with a name, is none other than Transparency International Pakistan (TIP) Advisor Syed Adil Gilani giving the claim some credibility. But the numbers quoted, rather than giving a clear view of corruption, actually provide a confusing and convoluted picture of the so-called “corruption”.

After several paragraphs of condemning statements, Abbasi finally gets to some hard numbers. But what readers are presented with are not cases of government officials pocketing money or steering it to their cronies. Instead, we are told that “circular debt is Rs190 million”, “state-owned enterprises like PSO, PIA, Pakistan Steel, Railways, SSGC, SNGC are eating away Rs150-300 billion per annum”, and “tax to GDP ratio in 2008 was 11%, which in 2011 has reduced to 9.1% instead of being increased”.

Economists can debate the proper level of circular debt and whether the government should own enterprises like airlines, railways, etc. But this is not corruption. Neither is the tax-to-GDP ratio. According to Abbasi, “this the drop of 1.9% in the tax GDP means annual loss of US$ 3.3 billion”. Even if his maths are correct, does he honestly expect us to believe that the PM has personally evaded US $3.3 billion in taxes? Again, this is a cultural problem – not official corruption.

Abbasi’s article takes a turn for the truly bizarre, however, when he attempts the following mathematical misdirection:

The TIP adviser added that India’s tax-GDP ratio is 18%, and at that rate, Pakistan’s tax evasion/corruption in FBR is 9% of $175 billion, which is US$15.5 billion per year, i.e. Rs1,400 billion per year.

Did you see what he did there? He’s not even comparing apples to oranges. Rather, he is suggesting that we pretend that the apples are oranges so that we can get an even higher number!

Believing he had discovered a magic formula for attacking the government, Ansar Abbasi continued his assault on mathematics a few days later when he claimed that he was mistaken on Sunday. The present government has not cost the nation Rs8.5 trillion – but Rs20 trillion!.

Where did Abbasi find an additional Rs9.5 trillion? After his article appeared on Sunday, he apparently received a phone call from his friend Dr Shahid Siddiqi who suggested some additional “corruption” that he could add to his equation. Now, in addition to counting spending for public enterprises like transport and steel, Ansar Abbasi is including national security spending as “corruption”.

Quoting the State Bank of Pakistan figures, Siddiqi said the cost of war on terror to country’s economy from April 1, 2008 till January 31, 2012 stands at Rs4400 billion ($50 billion).

And not only is he adding military spending, he is also adding in trade deficits and monetary devaluation!

The trade deficit of these years has been $47 billion where as the Pak rupee fell from Rs68.16 per dollar in June 2008 to Rs90.50 in February 2012. The rupee fell by Rs22.3 per dollar during these years. A total of $30 billion has been transferred out of Pakistan during the first three financial years of the Gilani regime.

At this point the question must be asked if there is anything Ansar Abbasi and his sources believe is not corruption?

It should be noted that Dr Shahid Siddiqi appears to be a ‘go-to’ economist for Ansar Abbasi’s economic hit pieces. In October 2011, Ansar Abbasi quoted Dr Siddiqi extensively terming the government as “lying” about economics and bleeding the country through corruption. Ansar Abbasi quoted Dr Siddiqi again in December 2011 as saying “the overall economic situation of Pakistan under the present regime is the worst in the 64-year history of Pakistan”.

Mr Adil Gilani, too, may have a grudge to bear against the present government as he has found himself summoned before Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Lahore over questions about his relationship with National insurance Company Ltd board member Qasim Amin Dada. Previously, it was reported, Mr Adil Gilani’s son resigned from his position as board member of Pakistan National Shipping Corporation (PNSC) after questions were raised about his appointment.

We do not question that corruption is a legitimate and serious problem in society. But stirring up a cloud of dust and calling it smoke does not make a fire. Hit pieces based on formulas that inflate numbers do not help expose and eliminate corruption, it only serves to distract from those who are legitimately trying to shine a light on serious issues of corruption and governance. If we are going to reduce and eliminate corruption, we need serious journalists to do the honest work of reviewing data and separating what is and is not legitimate use of taxpayer funds.