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PERJURY COMPROMISES ACCOUNTABILITY

The Oxford Dictionary defines perjury as “an act of willfully telling an untruth when on oath”, and goes on to use the words, “lying, mendacity, mendaciousness, falsification, deception, untruthfulness, dishonesty, duplicity”.  A perjurer is thus a criminal. Telling lies whether under oath or not is a favourite (and quite profitable) pastime in South Asia, particularly in Pakistan where it has flourished to become almost an art, a profession. A visit to any of the lower courts or even the High Courts should be an eye-opener, if needed one can hire services of touts who excel in lying under oath. According to the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) person giving or fabricating false evidence is liable to be punished with imprisonment for life or with rigorous imprisonment, extending ten years, and also liable to being fined. However it is so rarely used as not to provide any deterrent against a witness who comes into court solely to mislead and propagate lies. An August 2018 report in the Express Tribune is quite telling –SHC’s registrar in a reply submitted in a case regarding judicial reforms “the Sindh High Court (SHC) and its subordinate courts have not prosecuted even a single individual over the past three years for perjury under Sections 193-196 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).”

The developed world considers perjury a very serious offense because it can derail the basic goal of the justice system—discovering the truth. Even some of the famous and the powerful have faced the consequences of perjury, this includes prison, Olympic track star Marion Jones, facing impeachment US President Richard Nixon had to resign, Member of Parliament and prominent writer Jeffrey Archer got imprisonment. To cause another to commit perjury is also a criminal offence. Unbelievably almost every enquiry, every investigation, every trial and every arbitration in Pakistan reeks of rampant falsification. One wonders why those disqualified by Supreme Court (SC) are not charged with perjury?  The major reason for the ineffectiveness of our laws with respect to defamation, broadcasters and print media spread venomous canard without verifying the facts. Defamation of character is perjury.

Quoting my article, ‘Perjury’ of Feb 12, 2010 “In pure and simple terms, a perjurer is a criminal and must be treated as one. In most countries, perjury carries exemplary punishment, ruthless enough for people to avoid giving a statement under oath lest that statement (or part thereof) be detected to be false, unfortunately this is not so in Pakistan. In criminal trials the punishment should be exactly what the accused would have got if the evidence had been held to be correct. If based on the statements of the witnesses committing perjury the accused would go to the gallows, shouldn’t those giving false evidence face the gallows themselves?” Unquote. What a travesty of fact that unlike the FIA, NAB does not have laws that can put those committing perjury to trial and conviction.

The willingness of those under oath to tell lies with impunity, to forge documents, to erase, alter, deface, mutilate, etc evidence as may be required. False representation of facts and distortions, “outright lies” is the order of the day. Perjury must include distorting and destroying of evidence by the law enforcement agencies also, any such involvement by government personnel must be punished by imprisonment and heavy fines.  It should therefore be made incumbent upon lawyers to satisfy themselves that they do not present false evidence to try and exonerate their clients, accounting firms which audit accounts can easily find out if any money has been diverted for bribes, etc.  Both legal counsel and accounting firms should be liable to be blacklisted alongwith those they help to escape accountability.

Fake credentials were used by many among our lawmakers to enter Parliament and preside over the destiny of the nation. Hiding of illegal wealth by misdeclaration and failing to pay necessary taxes has become endemic. Many declarations of assets have turned out to be mostly false. Today our entire economic system is under tremendous pressure because of the large deficit in the revenue collection. False declaration of income and wealth is considered a serious misdemeanour in most countries and carries automatic conviction and/or penalty thereof. The Wealth Tax and Income Tax returns of many politicians and landowners sitting in Parliament would put the tax returns of a salaried employee in the middle management cadre to shame.

With almost no one being jailed for telling lies under oath, for how long will we have to tolerate certified perjurers rule over our nation’s destiny?  With automatic and severe punishment for instances of perjury in NAB’s laws, its task of going after the corrupt white-collar criminals will that much easier and act as a tremendous deterrent.

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