“If I were to go to the office, they demand one month’s salary as bribe…it’s like a mafia there.”
Dr Kadeer* remembers his experiences trying to access his pension in Pakistan. Having worked for more than 30 years as a senior pathologist, he was entitled on retirement to a government pension.
It’s a lengthy process, he says – you need mounds of paperwork to prove your job history, there’s a chain of clearance to negotiate, and several different levels of government hierarchy to pass through.
But this is not all. “The way the system works, one has to bribe an officer at every stage,” says Dr Kadeer. Initially he refused. After three months of stalled application, he gave in. “I had to,” he says. “They wouldn’t forward my documents otherwise. I had to do it.”
It’s a depressingly common scenario, says Dr Kadeer, and as his application passed to the next office, it happened again.
He says the official claimed to have he had no record of his decades of employment. However, Dr Kadeer recalls, the official promised to overlook this and “solve all his problems” if the doctor paid him a month’s salary. For a senior pathologist, this is 200,000 Pakistani rupees (US$2,000).
“There are many people who have been in this situation and never get anywhere,” he says. “Some people have passed away and their families still haven’t received anything. I know a family whose breadwinner passed away 10 years ago and they still haven’t received his pension.”
After five visits to the same office, he might have buckled, and paid the bribe. But he wanted to take a stand. He’d seen an advert on television for our anti-corruption legal advice centre in Pakistan, and he got in touch.
Hearing the doctor’s story, we contacted the Accountant General of the province, and also alerted the Chief Secretary of the provincial government and the Chairman of the National Accountability Bureau – Pakistan’s leading anti-corruption agency.
The bureau got back to us quickly wanting more information. The Chief Secretary also responded, verifying the facts with Dr Kadeer and writing to the Accountant General instructing him to activate the pathologist’s pension immediately. Within days, Dr Kadeer had the papers he needed to collect his retirement payment and an apology from the Accountant General’s office.
This is only one case – there are many more in Dr Kadeer’s position. This is why Transparency International Pakistan is raising awareness of how people can take a stand, and calling on leaders to address the wider issue. “We are the victims of this bribery system,” says Dr Kadeer. “The system needs to change.”
*Name has been changed