Reports that ambulances of Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) have been, and perhaps still are, used to smuggle wheat from AJK (Azad Jammu and Kashmir) to Rawalpindi need to be investigated urgently, transparently and independently. The institute’s management, too, needs to be upfront about this scandal, especially since it already has plenty of egg on its face since its employees were found colluding with a vendor, hired to incinerate medical waste, to sell infectious material such as discarded syringes and blood bags and make a quick buck on the side in February. And the investigation report into that incident, ordered by the prime minister himself, has still to see the light of day.

PIMS has started an investigation into the smuggling allegation as well, but its senior management is already trying to play down the incident, as if there was nothing wrong with loading wheat bags into an ambulance “for a few minutes” and then unloading them “after realising that it was unethical”. The smuggling charge is a very serious one, especially since Islamabad’s residents regularly complain that PIMS often does not have enough ambulances to cater to the capital city itself. If it really turns out that the shortage occurs because its ambulances are busy facilitating smuggling because they can pass through check points unchecked, especially with the blessing of the senior management, then the strictest action must be taken.

The press has also quoted disgruntled employees, on the condition of anonymity of course, claiming close links between the PIMS management and some government functionaries, which would explain why no inquiry ever comes to a logical conclusion. Since journalists will never reveal their sources in the open, the investigation must also question them to verify all such accusations. If true, this would reveal a racket that goes far beyond stuffing wheat bags into ambulances and a few doctors and administrators exploiting and abusing their positions to feed their personal greed. There’s already enough to suggest that this could possibly be one of those cases where highly placed people in important government offices run crime rings and further bloat the black economy in the process.

This also brings us to the wider issues of widespread corruption and smuggling. Everybody knows that corruption, especially in the government sector, is one of the biggest problems facing the country. It is also singularly responsible for unbridled smuggling that costs the exchequer billions of dollars every fiscal year. And the reason no government has ever been able to control it is that the rot runs so deep in the official machinery that investigations are defanged even before they are able to take off properly.

Popular media should be appreciated for bringing such things to light every now and then. It is now the responsibility of the government to take the kind of action that not only punishes culprits that are caught, but also deters others that might be entertaining similar smart ideas. This, unfortunately, is where the system has always disappointed. That is why all eyes are once again on the government as PIMS waits for the result of its own internal investigation.

The ruling coalition is already struggling for legitimacy and acceptance among the people, mostly because of its inability to stabilise the economy. That is why it would do everybody – people, economy and especially itself – a big favour by ensuring that the truth is unearthed and, if there is indeed foul play, the long arms of the law apprehend the bad guys and then the law takes its course.

So far, it is the repeated failure of the government to enforce its writ that has allowed such practices to thrive. This must change.