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ACCOUNTABILITY BEGINS AT HOME

A democratic form of govt 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 (NAB) 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. Justice (Retd) 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 businessman 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 him if he continues association with those who may be tainted with corruption be seen 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 a 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 political system, 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. How this man has amassed billions without paying taxes? The Federal Tax Ombudsman’s orders in 2013 to recover Rs. 119 billion in taxes owed by Malik Riaz was set aside by then President Asif Zardari. Something is wrong with the Constitution and the rule of law if a person deeply involved in corruption can get away with “pardoning” another. 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 public. What happened to the Rs 62 billion (about US$ 700 million) paid to him by Defence Housing Authority (DHA) Islamabad, forcing them to re-schedule re-payments to the banks?

Thanks to Malik Riaz’s stable of high-paid lawyers and retired senior civil and military professionals aware knowing the intricacies of how to manipulate the governance process, he has always got away on legal technicalities. Diverting potable water to Malik Riaz’s Bahria project in Karachi is criminal. Sindh govt officials colluded by laying four three-inch diameter connections. Could they have done this without Zardari’s explicit instructions?  Cutting into the already inadequate supplies to the 20-million plus city, Karachi’s residents resulting in an acute water shortage and making their purchase exorbitantly priced water tankers or stand at communal taps to obtain water for daily use. How Riaz get land in prime locations in lieu of worthless land from barren areas is a saga out of the “corruptions handbook”. Is justice deaf, dumb and blind to this blatant and calculated corruption? One has the greatest respect for Chief Justice Saqib Nisar but Malik Riaz must be laughing himself sick for having got away with only Rs 5 billion deposit.

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 their voters after their tenure has expired. 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 govt 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. Imran Khan compromising on self-accountability adversely affect his vision for governance and Pakistan.

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