Pakistan’s accountability processes are breaking down
Corruption in Pakistan is rising by leaps and bounds, mainly because of the absence of a deterrent accountability system. Nothing happens unless the relevant palms are greased.
According to Transparency International’s 2021 report, the only nuclear power of the Islamic world, is ranked 140 out of 180 countries in the corruption index, indicative of a deterioration of 16 points compared to its standing a year before.
The situation is expected to aggravate in the times ahead, as the coalition now ruling the country of 220 million has made accountability laws totally toothless. The undesirable step has been taken at a time when there was a need to make punishments more stringent to bridle the menace of corruption and improve the country’s image in the world.
The move will benefit many big wigs in power who are facing corruption cases. Unfortunately, these accused are now in a position to take a decision on the ultimate fate of the national accountability bureau (NAB), the anti-graft institution.
It is superfluous to recall that many in the government are in favor of disbanding the NAB as, according to them, the state of the economy can’t improve in the presence of this organization and its draconian laws. Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had even proposed in an interview that the powers of the NAB be transferred to the federal investigations agency (FIA) in the greater national interest.
The institution whose role it is to prosecute the accused will practically be acting as their defense counsel.
After amendments made to the relevant laws, the NAB exists - but just. The powerful accused will now try to use the setup for their acquittal before giving it a parting kick.
Now that Justice Javed Iqbal has served out his term as chairman, the deputy chairman acts as its titular head unless the prime minister and the opposition leader in the National Assembly, through a consultative procedure provided in the Constitution, select the new head of the institution.
Ironically, Raja Riaz – a PTI rebel - has already announced that he would contest the next general election on the ticket of the PML-N, a party of which the prime minister is the president. In such a situation, it can be said with certitude that the ‘consultation’ will be nothing more than a farce and the new NAB chief will be a man to be selected by the prime minister, who himself faces NAB cases.
Till the new chairman is selected and starts performing his duties, the deputy chairman is the NAB head. And the deputy chairman is a humble servant of the government. He is bound to work according to the government’s instructions.
No government employee has the spine to speak or act against the prime minister, no matter how serious the allegation is against him.
And in Pakistan where sycophancy happens to be the most effective ladder to reach the higher positions in government or win favors, the deputy chairman can only be expected to suggest to the ‘ruling’ accused the ways and means to get exonerated. In other words, the institution whose role is to prosecute the accused will, practically, be acting as their defense counsel.
That PM Shehbaz and his son Hamza (who is also chief minister of the most populous province Punjab) are appearing before various courts because of cases against them is nothing but drama. Nobody can say whether the appearance of a sitting prime minister and a chief minister before courts in corruption cases is a matter of embarrassment or pride for Pakistan. Sympathizers say that the new coalition government has set such high moral values that even the sitting heads of government are facing courts like others accused.
But these ‘high moral values’ of the prime minister were exposed when his son Suleiman, declared an absconder by a court, and who has been settled in London for many years, arrived to accompany his father to a dinner hosted by the Turkish President in Turkey.
Sharif could win countless hearts if, as prime minister, he helps the state of Pakistan bring back to Pakistan all the accused members of his own family living in the British capital. His elder brother Nawaz Sharif, who is also an absconder living in London since November 2019, should be no exception. Likewise, the prime minister’s son-in-law Imran and relative Ishaq Dar.
Sharif had guaranteed the court in 2019 that he would bring his brother back and he should honor his word.
This is his constitutional duty as the head of government, and it is not fair for him to use his official position to save his relatives.
- The writer is a senior and veteran journalist with a career spanning 40 years with major national and international newspapers.