The caricature of accountability in Pakistan
A key national grouse in Pakistan is that there is rampant corruption and the corrupt go free. The assumption is that politicians in general and particularly leaders of two parties that have between them won eight of Pakistan’s eleven general elections in the last 50 years – PPP of Bhuttos and PML-N of Sharifs – plundered and laundered the country dry.
No wonder Imran Khan and his party, running a campaign against corruption and bringing to book all those assumed of plundering the national kitty, won power in 2018. Three years down and all the assumptions have been exposed for a farce.
This assumed astronomical proportions this month after it transpired that the Khan government had to pay over $20 million to an international investigative company – Broadsheet – as fine for non-implementation of an agreement years ago, to go after alleged corruption money stashed abroad. The irony: not a single dollar or rupee was recovered by Broadsheet.
And this after the controversial National Accountability Bureau (NAB) wasted tens of millions of dollars for the better part of this century chasing illusory billions allegedly stashed abroad by politicians, generals and businessmen without recovering much.
The details are outrageous if breathtaking. When NAB awarded the contract to trace and recover the alleged billions, Broadsheet did not even have a single employee. The deal? Broadsheet would get an eye-watering 20 percent of the value of each ‘asset’ recovered-- including those that NAB recovered within Pakistan.
While Broadsheet could trace only a former naval admiral who had plundered money and a politician, NAB requested that the Sherpao case be dropped because he was by then a key minister in the military government of General Musharraf. In between, while Broadsheet could not collect court-satisfactory evidence against the Sharifs, it lay claim to 20% of the value of assets of the Sharifs that NAB calculated they had allegedly plundered but never proven in a court of law.
NAB powers to allege, prosecute, trial and jail have been used mostly against politicians in aid of engineering political objectives.
This led to NAB canceling the contract with Broadsheet and paying it over $20 million for a calculated loss of commission it would have earned if NAB had proven recoveries in a court of law. In the meanwhile, Pakistani officials also allegedly ended up paying over a million dollars each to middlemen to settle with Broadsheet.
The whole narrative of corruption in Pakistan is founded on exaggerated allegations – 20 years after NAB was formed, no corruption by the Bhuttos or the Sharifs, or indeed any of their cabinet ministers, have been proven despite years of investigation, coercive trial and multiple years of jail time served by them.
The narrative of corruption is also devoid of reasonable context – if the Sharifs and Bhuttos allegedly plundered the national kitty dry, how come their 10 years in power from 2008-18 saw tax collection quadruple, the economy growing steadily every year to the highest averages in five decades, the energy crisis of the preceding decade overcome, the employment rate climb the highest in two decades and the annual development budget increase five-fold from the preceding decade of Musharraf’s military rule?
The narrative of corruption is also punctured by the 20 years of NAB’s performance. An overwhelming chunk of its recoveries has been from business and bureaucracy against whom there are no allegations bandied about or media trials conducted, unlike the politicians.
NAB powers to allege, prosecute, trial and jail have been used mostly against politicians in aid of engineering political objectives. Ironically, NAB exempts both the military and judiciary from any accountability even though the military has ruled Pakistan for half of its existence.
The government of Khan, over half of whose cabinet members are Musharraf cabinet alumni, does a disservice to politics by caricaturizing it by supporting the farcical circus that goes by the name of accountability
Until every public office holder or person paid by public taxes is brought into its ambit, ‘accountability’ will remain a vendetta. Overdue reforms to governance are an intrinsic part of tackling corruption. There is too much emphasis by Pakistan on chasing corruption money rather than preventing corruption.
– Adnan Rehmat is a Pakistan-based journalist, researcher and analyst with interests in politics, media, development and science.