Concept of accountability in democracy

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Mohammad Jamil

In a kingship, dictatorship or in any such other dispensation, there is no concept of accountability. In a democracy, the principle of accountability holds that government officials – whether elected or appointed by those who have been elected – are responsible to the citizenry for their decisions and actions. Accountability is about being responsible to the people for actions taken; about being able to explain, clarify and justify actions of the Executive. Of course, the people want to be governed fairly and in a transparent manner. It should be borne in mind that being elected as prime minister or president does not mean that he should not be subjected to accountability on the plea that people have voted for him. The PPP, PML-N and its allied parties in Pakistan wish to do away with Articles 62 and 63, so that their leaders are not answerable to the Parliament or judiciary.
In February 2015, on the news of discovery of iron, gold and copper reserves in Chiniot, then prime minister Nawaz Sharif had congratulated the nation and expressed the hope it would help the county break the begging bowl. He had regretted that acute scarcity of resources was hindrance in overcoming gas and electricity shortage; and spending on education, health, employment and social sector was limited. He had admitted: “Corruption is rampant in the society; touch any brick there is a filth and dirt under it”. Transparency International in its report for 2014 had stated: “Though politicians in Pakistan constantly accuse each other of corrupt practices and vow to end this evil, but when they come to power, corruption continues to rise in Pakistan and the rest of South Asia.” The moot question is how can a corrupt person be held responsible by corrupt authority or an institution which is itself corrupt?
Several elected leaders had resigned in the aftermath of Panama Leaks scandal. On April 05 2016, Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsso relinquished after appearance of his name in Panama Leaks. Gunnlaugsso and his wife had an offshore company named Wintris. Likewise, Panama Leaks controversy forced Ukrainian Prime Minister to abdicate on April 10 2016. On April 15 2016, Spanish industrial minister resigned as his name was mentioned in the leaks. Other key names who resigned on moral grounds include Chile Transparency International President, FIFA Ethics Committee member John and ABN AMRO Bank Member of Supervisory Board Bert Meerstadt who resigned on April 07 2016. The Panama leaks, comprising 11.5 million documents from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, showed how some of the world’s most powerful people secreted their money offshore. The documents from around 214,000 offshore entities covered almost 40 years.
Among those named in the documents were then Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s family, friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin, relatives of the leaders of China, Britain, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Nawaz Sharif then prime minister of Pakistan did not resolve the matter in Parliament, and wrote a letter to the Supreme Court to form a Judicial Commission. The formation of commission and terms of reference suggested by the PML-N were rejected by the Supreme Court, and Joint Investigation Team was formed by the court. Nawaz Sharif was disqualified on the basis of non-declaration of iqama and salary drawn from the company. NAB court has almost completed proceedings in Evenfield Apartments case, and Nawaz Sharif and his family members are appearing in the NAB court in other cases. Almost all countries have laws for accountability of the Executive.
Impeachment is a political process in the USA, in which any civil officer including the president and vice president, can be removed from office “for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” according to the Article II, Section 4 of the US Constitution. In 1868, President Andrew Johnson was impeached and nearly removed from office for his policies for reconstruction of the South. In February 1868, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Johnson. The House passed all 11 articles of impeachment, which, among other things, accused Johnson of illegally removing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, an opponent of president’s policies, from office. The case went to trial in the Senate and the legislative body held a vote. Johnson came within a single vote of removal from office, and he was acquitted of the charges in May 1868.
In 1974, President Richard Nixon stepped down halfway through his second term to avoid impeachment amid the Watergate scandal. While Nixon was running for re-election in 1972, people associated with his campaign broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel and Office Building in Washington, D.C. On February 6, 1974, the House of Representatives passed a resolution calling for Nixon’s impeachment. With his political support vanishing and facing a likely impeachment by Congress, Nixon announced his resignation on August 8, 1974. On December 19, 1998, the House of Representatives had impeached President Bill Clinton for perjury vis-à-vis affair he had with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The prosecution needed a two-thirds majority to convict but failed to achieve even a bare majority. Rejecting the first charge of perjury, 45 Democrats and 10 Republicans voted “not guilty,” and on the charge of obstruction of justice the Senate was split 50-50.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.

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