Accountability: The Panama factor

Ali Ashraf Khan

I CANNOT help but admire General Raheel. After he had named corruption the core trouble of our society and had connected it to the war against terrorism while adding that corruption is crippling all society and its institution, since last two days he is now back in the news with the information that six high-ranking officers including two general have been removed i.e. forcibly retired from the army and ranks and perks including land and plots, except pension and medical facilities have been taken back.
The speech of General Raheel two days ago had triggered wide-spread approval even from circles where one would think that the approval was meant rather in words than in deeds. Because any such demand for fighting corruption, for fighting terrorism and other ills are only credible if and when the one who is making that demand while starting the reform in one’s own house. I can fight terrorism only if I first make sure that none of my family/ institution is in any way connected to terrorism; I can fight corruption if and when I put my own house in order first.
No land reform – a precondition for fighting poverty- has ever succeeded because the ones who had demanded it – like Z A Bhutto- where the biggest landlords themselves and without their example of parting with the family land such a reform was doomed. That is why the news about the demotion of high-ranking army personal for corruption is exactly the thing that can make the demand to fight corruption credible in Pakistan. In many attempts before this one this principle had been disregarded and accountability was extended in the first place to the rival (political) faction for settling their political scores against each other.
My experience of accountability during Benazir Butto’s rule was frustrating; my even-handed approach of accountability was disliked by ruling junta, to arrest the menace which was flourishing among civilian bureaucracy who were submitting annual asset declaration two lines typed on a paper. When the FACC was not satisfied with this a 22 column performa was devised and sent to all departments. But this effort also got blocked through cabinet decision.
One thing was appreciated at that time all army officers working in civil armed forces and FC and levis did comply with the order and submitted the declaration on a FACC performa. Transparency is an another essential arm of accountability, FACC tried for two years to get Freedom of Information Law enacted, this essential requirement was also bulldozed through a cabinet decision against it.
This ultimately led to my resignation from the accountability bureau in frustration because I found an unholy alliance between the political parties who were using accountability to fool the people. While we can securely suppose that the army is not the worst hotbed of corruption it is not immune either. Thus an accountability process was very much needed and it seems to have been going on for quite a while. We learn that the officers were removed after a due process that has been going on for over one year and other officers are under scrutiny as well.
This fact gives nobody in the whole of Pakistan to point fingers at the army or to excuse oneself or one’s institution from accountability, including the judiciary, the bureaucracy and the politicians of course. This matter also tells us something else. While we have been writing repeatedly that parliamentary democracy is not working well in Pakistan and seems also unable to improve itself the military seems to have found now a way how to push for reform without taking over political power directly and without abrogating the political system. General Raheel-led team is with his action practically proving that they are different from previous military commands and will not follow the practice of past military establishment. This is a step in the direction of improved and good governance and “persuasive co-existence” of the military and the civilian establishment – two parts without which Pakistan cannot exist.
This is a major development because it means finding a new way towards ruling our country in-between a military dictatorship and a malfunctioning democracy. In future a national government of a five to six member council electing one among them for one year in rotation as Chief Executive/Prime Minister, overseeing the government functions supervised through Managing Director/Minister for each ministry would be an alternative option. Such a council will in first three years complete across-the-board accountability in every walk of life and the remaining six years will hold 2 general elections for 3 year terms of national and provincial assemblies. This should also be made binding on all such people saddled in a National government that before and after completion of 10 year tenure they or their family members/ dependents children will not take part in politics or seek election into any public office, only then a corruption free system can be developed.
It is worth mentioning that in May 1996, Head of US department of Government Ethics held a meeting with me in FACC office Islamabad, where while appreciating FACC programme he explained some of 18th Century devised US laws code of ethics like the “Sunshine Act and Lobby Act” that have played a key role in controlling corruption, which provide guidelines to government officials and public representatives that has made US system accountable and work for the betterment of people at large. A hallmark of open government with maximum transparency and accountability.
To make these efforts more effective now in the backdrop of increasing corruption a UN Charter will be supported that is formulating Code of Conduct for public officials to eradicate this menace. Pakistan – as many other countries- is in the middle of a Panama crisis and because of this the army’s accountability drive is even more important. The persuasion that is contained in the military’s initiative to fight corruption will put legitimate pressure on the sitting government when dealing with the Panama crisis.
The gap between the legality of foreign accounts and firms and the (im) -morality of it has to be sorted out once and forever. Given its chequered history accountability in Pakistan needs a watchdog – a body dedicated to the task and monitored closely in which nobody is considered holy cow. The scrutiny has to reach beyond Panama and has to include Swiss accounts, loan and revenue defaulters and plunderers, land grabbers, money launderers and all hiding places of ill-gotten money to get rid of misery and poverty of the teeming millions who are not responsible for this malaise. God bless Pakistan.
—The writer is a senior columnist based in Karachi.

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