Accountability!

Ali Ashraf Khan

Corruption from day one of Pakistan’s existence has been marring this new country that was supposed to be the new homeland of Muslims. But even at that early stage Quaid-e Azam warned that corruption was a menace that would destroy this endeavour. Since then those in power have been extending corrupt practices instead of curtailing them. Progress in Pakistan has already been hindered in a major way but not by accountability that has been non-existent but by the corruption of the rulers. So much so that half of the population of Pakistan is illiterate, at least 60 per cent are living below or on the poverty line and according to the innovation index Pakistan is one of the least innovative countries of the world. Obviously, those compiling the index have not taken into account our innovation in always new means and ways of corruption and making money from murky sources!
Policy differences have been surrounding the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) since its beginning when within one year of its establishment by Gen. Musharraf the then Chairman and Vice Chairman – both army generals and favourites of General Musharraf – not only stopped talking to each other but the Vice Chairman stopped attending his office till General Musharraf had to intervene to resolve the issue, despite the fact that the performance of NAB was not up to public expectation. Now its fate is hanging in balance again since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed his serious reservations on the functioning of the bureau. The lawyer of Dr. Asim has demanded Chairman NAB’s resignation because in the NICL corruption case a reference is pending against him. More leaders from PML (N) continue to add their voices against the modus operandi of NAB while Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, which itself made its Ehtesab Commission ineffective in KPK is turning up in defense of the federal anti-graft institution and demanding that powers of NAB be clipped. A new gimmick has been coined called “Plea Bargain” that has been only working in favour of those nabbed in corruption and the officials are claiming their share through this bargain.
The idea of accountability of politicians and bureaucrats first developed when Mohammad Khan Junejo, the then Prime Minister established FACC (Federal Anti-Corruption Commission) with Gen. Majeed Malik (R) as its Chairman, by an Executive Order as extension of his authority. The FACC could not complete a year when Mr. Junejo’s government was sent packing using 58(2) (b) by General Ziaul Haq. When 1988 elections were held and Benazir Bhutto became Prime Minister, she revived FACC and appointed Malik Mohammad Qasim as its Chairman, it did some spade work to check abuse of financial and administrative authority by the rulers but this government also could not complete two years and was sent home on corruption charges.
Then came in Nawaz Sharif as Prime Minister but struggle for power within the then Troika and government led to the confrontation of Nawaz Sharif with Chief Justice, President and then the Army Chief. We saw then Nawaz supporters attacking the Supreme Court what finally led to the forced resignation of President, Prime Minister and Chief Justice.
Again in1993 elections were held and Benazir was elected Prime Minister; she again appointed Malik Qasim as Chairman of the FACC, this time again FACC opened cases against Nawaz Sharif’s group of industries and government corruption in privatisation matters, the PM’s self-employment scheme, the Yellow Cab scheme, Drug trafficking through PIA and Corruption in the purchase of Turbo Generators for Gilgit-Baltistan. The Optic Fiber scandal, Bank loan defaulters, SRO’s abuses were other cases taken up when I as member FACC also extended probing into the ongoing corruption by the ruling elite of PPP in obtaining PIA free tickets valuing 70 million rupees that was given to party jyalas, PIA Hotels corruption in operation, investment and disinvestment cases, fraudulent approval of loans under fake names without collaterals in collusion with NBP bosses, import of cotton from Turkmenistan by CEC, efforts to introduce Freedom of Information Act, comprehensive declaration of assets by bureaucrats, which was resisted from every quarter and finally blocked by federal cabinet of PPP.
Than her government was toppled for a second time and when the caretaker govt of Meraj Khalid came who appointed Justice Ghulam Mujadad Mirza (R) as FACC Chairman. When the next elections brought back Nawaz Sharif with a heavy mandate, Saifur Rehman started meeting the Chairman FACC and got hold of all the files pertaining to FACC enquiries against Nawaz government from Justice G. M. Mirza, which in itself is the height of intellectual and moral corruption. Needless to say that those files were important government records to be retained under strict custody and not handed over to some individual like that by a retired Judge, though the newspaper and PTV records covering these cases may still be available in their archives.
So the myth of accountability by a retired judge, bureaucrat or general is not important, what is required is the will and support of the nation to undertake a surgical operation to get rid of the corruption menace from the body politics of Pakistan or be prepared to face the consequences of such silence. Today the corruption has reached a level where it is entrenched in the political system of Pakistan having infiltrated into bureaucracy, political parties and judiciary. It is indispensable for creating funds for terrorism and militancy. Never in the history of Pakistan has there been a real accountability of the rulers. Writing off loans, stealing from the exchequer through privatisation and other innovative modes of filling one’s pockets have flourished. Accountability has always meant an instrument to tame the political opposition or the economic rivals. There has never been accountability across the board.
Now corruption and the fight against it has become a major point in the National Action Plan. While during the first two years accountability was only on the paper more terrorist attacks in Pakistan have helped to kick the NAB into life. And interestingly, one of the first hits was a close friend of Nawaz Sharif’s family. Nawaz Sharif was well reported addressing Bahawalpur function in the media. Now he intends to cut the wings of the NAB by creating a body “overseeing the NAB” under a retired judge. The first that comes to mind is that Nawaz Sharif is trying to secure his own neck because if a case against a family friend is allowed he himself could be next to feel the heat very easily.
Second thought is that we have seen retired judges, retired bureaucrats and retired generals sitting in chairs and the result most of the time was far from satisfactory. And thirdly, the PM should not get too bold after General Raheel has announced that he is going to be out; he will go but after making sure that the fight against terrorism and with that the fight against corruption is placed into good hands – as good as his own. So if the PML (N) government wants to avoid losing its creditability it should cooperate and not try to put straitjackets on NAB. There should be such an effective accountability institution that not only delivers but also enjoys trust of all people. God bless Pakistan.
—The writer is a senior columnist based in Karachi.

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