Ikram Sehgal

A government in a democracy being accountable to the people, the elected representatives are accountable to the people who elect them. Our enduring constant crisis in governance stems from our inept and corrupt rulers trampling the essential pillars of good governance, rule of law and accountability. This gives rise to unbridled and widespread corruption, low human development and higher poverty levels.

Formed in Nov 1999 “to eliminate corruption through a comprehensive approach encompassing prevention, awareness, monitoring and combating,” the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB’s) record of convicting politicians and civil servants has been hampered by political interference and/or bureaucrats conniving with some NAB officials to cover up white collar crimes. Former Justice Javed Iqbal as Chairman NAB has breathed fresh energy to make NAB as effective as it was during its first few years. Given the space to carry out effective accountability, dedicated employees of NAB have made considerable progress in investigating the corrupt dealings of a combination of politicians, bureaucrats, ex-servicemen, etc. Rumoured to be worth Rs 2.5 billion and still counting. Fawad Hasan Fawad and Ahad Cheema, the blue-eyed of Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif, respectively, were loaned billions by some known businessmen and financiers, for what consideration? Additionally, a matter of concern no one from the judiciary has ever been touched by NAB.

To quote Prime Minister-designate Imran Khan “accountability will start with me” and extends downwards to his cabinet members. Though individuals with political and/or financial strength may be important for Imran personally and/or politically, public perception will be unforgiving if he continues association with those who may be tainted with corruption or are installed in any position of authority. Imran’s success lies in practicing what he preaches. That the army does not have an internal audit system to curb corrupt practices is wrong. With military promotions merit-based and having an excellent administrational strength, the Army could play an exemplary role by devising an effective information mechanism for making public cases of accountability within the Army. This will encourage/force other institutions to willingly become part and parcel of the anti-graft drive. The judiciary does not have requisite on-board skills, the investigating of white collar crimes must depend upon an “Internal Affairs Division” within the Supreme Court (SC) and the High Courts (HCs) headed by an SC/HC Judge rank, respectively, with ability to form Joint Investigating Teams (JIT) for curbing corruption, especially in the lower judiciary. Without putting its independence in jeopardy the judiciary’s shortcoming can be filled through overlapping arrangements with investigation agencies, particularly in cases considered to be ‘open and shut’.

Being listed among the world’s most corrupt nations almost every year is a matter of shame. The tiniest positive change in its ranking is not because corruption has declined but because corruption has shot up in other countries in the list. Corruption is entrenched in the culture, having infiltrated deep into the bureaucracy, political parties and into sections of the judiciary. Accountability being mostly selective and used as a tool to tame political opposition or economic rivals makes across the board accountability a dream.

According to Wikipedia, the real estate tycoon, Malik Riaz is currently the 7th richest person in Pakistan, with an estimated wealth of over a billion dollars. Without embarrassment, Malik Riaz admits bribing both senior civilian and military officers and got a “substantial return on his investment”. The Army must investigate all those ex-servicemen (particularly two star and above) working (or associates) with Malik Riaz. Those who have benefitted by having plots, etc gifted to them by Riaz must be made public.

Every enquiry, every investigation, every trial and every arbitration in Pakistan today reeks of rampant falsification with absolute impunity. Perjury is rampant, why are those disqualified by SC not charged with perjury? Every elected representative thinks that he is only answerable to his voters. Remember Nawaz Sharif’s tirade after being removed from office by the SC, “I am only answerable to the people of Pakistan”? Truly independent and autonomous, anti-corruption agencies will allow conduct of across-the-board accountability without any political interference. Surgical restructuring of the entire accountability mechanism must include NAB and other Federal/Provincial anti-corruption entities. This should not defer/delay any ongoing investigation. Moreover accountability across the board must include the judiciary and the military, a suitable mechanism duly devised so that these institutions are not degraded because of a few hypocrite scoundrels pontificating on TV about corruption.

Without getting involved politically indulging in or interference, accountability working independently is an opportunity for the new government to cleanse the system. As a leader of integrity and vision Imran Khan can only develop in the mould of Malaysia’s Mahathir Muhammad or Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew if he is aided by people of integrity around him promoting merit-based decisions at all levels and increasing accountability. With people starting to hope that their dreams can be fulfilled, he cannot afford tainted individuals in his inner circle. Any compromise on self-accountability will adversely affect Imran’s vision for governance and Pakistan.

(The writer is a defence and security analyst)