Adil Gilani, left, chairman of Transparency International's Pakistan… (Majid Hussain, For The Times )
Reporting from Karachi, Pakistan — Adil Gilani's inquiries have helped expose bidding irregularities at power plants that robbed government coffers of $2 billion, a real estate scam that cost taxpayers $16 million and a $257-million scandal that brought down the chairman of Pakistan's largest steel mill.
Now, a growing number of officials appear intent on discrediting the gruff, white-haired Pakistani, who has run Transparency International's office in Karachi since 2000.
The revenue minister for Sindh province has called Gilani "an enemy of the country." Interior Minister Rehman Malik has threatened to shut down his office. The governor of Punjab, the country's wealthiest and most populous province, tweeted that Gilani had once been fired on suspicion of fraud, an allegation that turned out to be false.
Lately, Gilani said, he's also been receiving death threats. People he described as "high-placed government officials" have warned him in face-to-face meetings that he could be killed if he continued to criticize the government.
"The fact that I am alive at all is very strange," he said. "As a result of information that we have passed on to the Supreme Court, at least 25 people have been arrested, including big businessmen."
Corruption has long been seen as coursing through virtually every vein of Pakistani society. Only 2% of Pakistan's population pays income taxes. Federal lawmakers have mysteriously tripled their incomes in just six years.
"Like other [developing countries], we have problems of governance, and like many, we have issues of transparency and corruption," Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who is not related to Adil Gilani, said during a speech to international donors in November.
"Sometimes it is asked, why doesn't Pakistan help itself? Why doesn't Pakistan do more? When will Pakistan begin to reform its institutions and reform its public sector? These are valid questions," the prime minister continued.
The United States States has a major stake in Pakistan's battle with corruption. Washington needs a stable Pakistani government that can dismantle Afghan Taliban strongholds in the country's northwest and eradicate a homegrown insurgency that continues to launch waves of suicide bomb attacks in the nuclear-armed state.
Rampant corruption undermines the Pakistani government's credibility, making it harder for the government in Islamabad to amass public support for tackling those tasks.
Pakistan's government has long been touchy about outsiders looking into its internal affairs. But this fall, circumstances have resulted in an increased sensitivity to scrutiny.
Devastating summer floods that left millions homeless have forced Islamabad to seek billions of dollars in reconstruction aid from an international community wary that much of that money could be siphoned off.
Adil Gilani believes the aggressive campaign against him is driven in part by his new role in helping scrutinize how Pakistan spends the Obama administration's five-year, $7.5-billion civilian aid package, a portion of which will be used for post-flood reconstruction. In September, Gilani's office signed a five-year, $2.9-million contract with Washington to act as a clearinghouse for corruption complaints.
(Though Washington is primarily concerned about U.S. aid being misspent or misappropriated by Pakistani officials and bureaucrats, the U.S. has also recently raised flags about private American contractors involved in U.S.-funded Pakistan development projects. On Wednesday, the U.S. banned an American firm, the Academy for Educational Development, from being awarded new contracts after uncovering alleged evidence of fraud related to a U.S. Agency for International Development-funded effort in Pakistan's volatile tribal areas.)
Transparency International, a global corruption watchdog, consistently ranks Pakistan near the bottom of its annual corruption index; this year, it is listed as the world's 34th-most corrupt nation. According to another Transparency International report released Thursday, 73% of Pakistanis believe their government has been ineffective in curbing corruption.
"I realize we need to make innumerable improvements," Prime Minister Gilani said in his recent speech. "However, I can assure you a reforms program is being pursued to achieve a better level of governance."
Few would be more suited to help lead the charge than Adil Gilani, who oversees a staff of 22, mostly young Pakistani men and women who spend much of their time clipping government bid solicitation ads from newspapers to determine whether anything fishy crops up in the contracting process.
From a pair of cramped, stuffy offices alongside a Karachi avenue choked with motorcycle rickshaws, Gilani and his crew have taken on some of Pakistan's most powerful magnates and politicians. Their latest successful probe involves National Insurance Corp. Ltd., or NICL, the state-owned insurance provider, and its chairman, Ayaz Niazi.