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Accountability And Bangladesh

Within days of his Oct 12, 1999 takeover, Pervez Musharraf established the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in Pakistan to ferret out the corrupt of the past and fight endemic corruption in the present. The culprits whoever they were would be held accountable, the money they had looted would be recovered. NAB mission statement has since been compromised, viz (1) partly because of political exigencies of the continuity of Musharraf’s rule but (2) mostly by the “plea bargaining” pretext used to let dozens of white-collar criminals walk free. This loophole in the regulations governing anti-corruption became a “highway” for corruption, with the accused and the accusers both comfortable in a corrupt embrace that undermined the whole concept of accountability as envisaged by Musharraf when launching NAB. The simple formula for those failing to reimbursing the govt exchequer with the looted money is to throw away the keys of the jail cell.

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Rescuing Fact From Fiction

Pakistan’s economy is on the move, and why not? We are a geographical crossroads country blessed with (primarily) an agriculture economy and increasingly finding our industrial bearings. In the high-tech and services sector we are poised to take a quantum leap forward. We have a long coastline waiting to be exploited and a vast hinterland that can be developed for agriculture. The stock market is overvalued but not by much, the present benign govt attitude is of “letting a hundred crooks bloom” in the hope that the benefits of the booming economy will “trickle down” to the masses, the players who control the market and manipulate the “corrections” are not about to be corrected. Take NAB’s hasty withdrawal from investigating sugar shortages! It is in the political arena that we are badly mired, reliance being placed on corrupt elements who will pocket the goodies of “trickle-down” economics themselves rather than allowing it to fitter down to those who really need succour. Such chameleon loyalty does not mix well with the image of honesty that Gen Pervez Musharraf brought with him when he came to power. They are the ones who need Musharraf’s patronage, it is not the other way around. They cannot (and will not) deliver for anyone except themselves.

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Sindh’s Centrifugal Forces

Within six weeks of re-entry into the body politic of the nation, democracy is performing in line with the general claim made by its detractors that most politicians of the third world put self-interest over good governance as their primary objective. With the PML (Q) nominee for PM Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali barely passing muster with a heterogeneous mix of votes (including that of 10 “patriots” from PPP-P), the battle shifted to the Provinces. With the PML (Q) and MMA having quite a majority respectively, the governance of Punjab and NWFP was never in doubt. The situation in Balochistan and Sindh Provinces is another story! MMA may have got the immediate edge in Balochistan by winning over the nationalist parties but the vital ground of Sindh (and with it the prize catch of the cash-rich port city of Karachi) has become a veritable quagmire. No party having a clear majority, it was either the PPP-P or the MQM that could lead a possible coalition of smaller parties or they could join together in a Provincial coalition opposed to the Centre. The smaller parties with the “swing vote” had different ideas, they thought it was their prerogative to name the Chief Minister. On that premise all possible permutations and combinations floundered and the Governor postponed the Sindh Assembly “Oath-Taking” Session indefinitely till matters got sorted out as to who had the clear mandate to govern. The possible options are mind-boggling enough to call into question the core character of the political parties in the fray, do they in fact have an ideology or are their ambitions confined only to coming to power by any means, fair and foul?

Maulana Fazlur Rahman has been living in the heady bliss that he was Ms Benazir’s first (and only) choice to be PM. That was conveyed not only directly after the elections but was repeated ad nauseam by Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan. Imagine the good Maulana’s seething anger when he discovered what everyone and his uncle already knew, she was only using him as a willing pawn to blackmail the military regime. Hell hath no greater fury than a Maulana scorned by a woman (and a politician at that), the PPP-P may well live to repent the games Mohtrama has been playing with the JUI (F) Chief’s emotions, more importantly, with his aspirations. Her scathing denunciation of MMA, a far cry removed from her stance availing at the end of October when the PPP-P and MMA were close to forging a coalition, was very ill-received by the MMA leaders. Keeping intact her normal posture of “doublespeak” for different audiences, Ms Benazir now feigns that she was always against the “fundamentalists”. The hard fact remains she was always ready to bed them politically as long as she got what she wanted, mainly that NAB charges against her husband and herself dropped. Since the military regime called her bluff (and it is believed Uncle Sam also showed annoyance over her evolving coalition plans), she has scrambled from one political option to another in trying to hold the Federal Regime hostage to her designs. Once Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali was past the first post, PPP-P fell back on trying to hold their Sindh bastion.

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Making the Constitution Workable

Within hours of the unanimous approval of the 1973 Constitution by the elected representatives of all the Federating units of Pakistan, “fundamental rights”, the very soul of any Constitution, was held in abeyance. If then PM Bhutto had a legitimate reason for the immediate suspension, then the Constitution was unworkable and in need of suitable amendments to make it fit for governance of the country on an equitable basis. If on the other hand, the suspension was simply to gag the opposition to Bhutto and his PPP government, then it amounted to a civilian coup de d’etat which was violative of the Constitution. Civilian or military, it does not matter, suspending fundamental rights goes against the tenets of any Constitution. Always the wily politician, Bhutto got away with something that may have been legally correct but was morally wrong. For 15 years these rights remained suspended till restored by late PM Mohammad Ali Khan Junejo, in the meantime many amendments substantially changed the character of the original document, there always being “the doctrine of necessity”. The 1973 Constitution in its purest form certainly cemented the Federation in the aftermath of 1971 but was not geared for smooth governance, suitable amendments were required. Without going into the history of the amendments made and reasons thereof, some were done in good faith in keeping with the genius of democratic environment prevailing in the country, in many cases the speed and the manner of their passing through Parliament symbolized the bad faith manifest in them.

Contrary to public opinion, the 1973 Constitution has not been overhauled and defaced as some have suggested, it has simply been made more workable. Having involved a set of proposed amendments duly crafted by the National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB), the military regime assessed the depth of the opposition and the motivation of the protest, and to their credit, the government has withdrawn almost two-thirds of the proposals. Therefore, what Gen Pervez Musharraf unveiled last Wednesday was that the National Security Council (NSC) was the bare necessity required to ensure that military interaction would cease in future in direct form and that a mechanism to gauge the issues and debate it in higher council (where the Armed Forces would have some say but not VETO powers) would be put in place. All the other amendments were under the Legal Framework Order (LFO) 2002 and were necessary to ensure that democracy would have some future on its return to Pakistan and would not be subject to intrigue and conspiracy as in the past, or repeated military intervention thereof.

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Arrogance and Corruption

Despite the dire predictions of his many detractors, Pervez Musharraf will be credited by posterity with a number of positive initiatives/actions, a few more than others, viz (1) having called the Indian bluff despite having the whole Indian Armed Forces camped for six months on our borders, remaining calm and cool in not blinking under the most hostile external environment in the history of the nation and (2) carrying out accountability, if not fully at least nearly across the board. Apropos of the President’s comment about nuclear potential giving Pakistan strategic balance with India the main reason for avoiding war, the Indians fell over themselves in calling it as “nuclear blackmail”. There was an embarrassed silence a day later, when the consensus candidate for the Indian Presidency Mr Abdul Kalam, soon after filing his nomination flanked by BJP’s Vajpayee and Congress” Sonia Gandhi, said that the reason why Pakistan and India did not go to war was because of “nuclear detente”. Already proving to be a bit of an unguided missile, how long before this muslim is labeled as an ISI operative?

The military regime’s calm under a flurry of ultimatums and outright threats avoided panic in our own population. My touchstone was the many up-scale farmhouses in Bedian adjacent to the border near Lahore, no one evacuated. Conversely India had built up such a war hysteria that when the Pakistan missiles were test-fired in early May, sheer panic swept through the Indian population at the belated realization that no Indian city was safe from a Pakistan counter-attack. The bulk of foreigners in India voted their confidence in India with their feet, clogging the airports in a rush to exit. Over the past few months, investment into India has dried up. For Pakistan where investment is confined to burgers, shakes, french fries and ice creams, not good for health in any case, it hardly matters. The Indians finally got their sums right, calculating that their commercial losses far outweighed their political and diplomatic profit in browbeating Pakistan and trying to label us a “terrorist State”. Before any sensor could be put on the LOC, Chief Monitor Fernandes surmised that infiltration cross-border had almost ceased! Thank you, George, for providing the comic relief during a period of extreme tension!

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Dissolution of Credibility?

Fresh from one of the greatest peacetime successes of Pakistan’s international history and basking still in Agra’s media glow, the military regime’s exercise in devolution of power is a possible future disaster in the making. While the devolution plan by itself has very big holes in it, the electoral process at the Local Bodies level has shown that “horse trading” is alive and well in Pakistan. There is always a temptation to manipulate favourable results in any competition but “match fixing” has its limits, that manipulation took place not only under the noses of the military regime but had their fingerprints all over the place, undercuts the credibility of a generally very clean military government. To put it bluntly, anytime there is an indirect election for any post, it is not the peoples’ will but the ability of the manipulators that will always emerge triumphant. For any elected post there must always be direct elections. On the other hand, devolution down to districts is more than acceptable in the urban areas, in the rural areas Local Government rule by a Nazim below that of a Division is asking for trouble. At the District level enhanced powers for the Nazims is a plus point for the citizens in cities and towns, in the rural District areas the same powers giving to the tribal Sardars absolute legal authority over the resident citizens makes them no better than bonded slaves at his will and whim.

One cannot condemn the whole electoral process leading to self-governance at the base level out of hand. One must be fair in observing that any self-rule is better than bureaucratic control. As such on a pro-rata basis, the “Naqvi model” of basic democracy that will come into effect on August 14, 2001 will certainly be better than what we have been suffering for the last 54 years under a very prejudiced and biased bureaucratic control. Whether democratic or military rule, the people of Pakistan have lived with only a semblance of freedom, bureaucracy remaining in actual power while giving lip-service to whoever were the rulers supposedly exercising power.

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NAB Blues?

Trying to resolve a major financial dispute between a private sector entity and a public sector organisation, the Minister-in-Charge gathered both the parties in good faith recently in Islamabad. It was soon clear that the public sector entity had no intention of accepting the truth and was mainly engaged in confusing the issues. Frustrated at their attitude, we requested the Minister for an impartial audit to be carried out by any well renowned mutually acceptable independent auditor. We were taken aback when the public sector entity asked for an immediate enquiry by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). That in fact was our own objective, to have professional accountants look at the records and on the basis of their findings to take it to NAB for prosecution of those in that particular Corporation who had been involved in fraud, forgery, perjury, misrepresentation and misinformation. The ready willingness of those whom we had no doubt had indulged in skullduggery to go to NAB in the first instance was really surprising. It was only after the meeting that we discovered why. It transpired that these characters had earlier been investigated by NAB officials on other issues, contrary to being held accountable for their misdemeanours they had compromised those enquiring into their affairs. Control of a public sector organisation allows a number of inducements to be possible, cushy job placements for relatives and/or friends, petty contracts, etc, in this case it included the job of a Chief Security Officer as a starter. Not surprising that those whom we wanted exposed should have audacity to suggest NAB, these “veterans” knew NAB could be manipulated to their satisfaction. That is the measure of what NAB has ultimately become, the sum of a few rascals in authority with a willingness to do “business” with the corrupt. NAB may do a hundred good things, a few bad fish have spoilt the entire pond. The guilty have reason to feel confident that they have derailed the moral sanctity behind NAB’s accountability process to suit their own purposes.

When Amjad became the Chairman of the newly commissioned NAB last October, great things were expected from him. In the Army he had acquired a reputation as a clean, honest (to a fault) and professionally competent soldier (and he remains one). He methodically set about cleaning the dirty stables of the muck-filled Pakistani farm, and if not rid us altogether of nepotism and corruption, putting the fear of God into a majority of the corrupt lot, their illegal activities could no longer be carried out openly without any questions or fear. Not only the hopes of the COAS and the Pakistan Army but that of the entire nation rested upon him. One forgave him his first “bull-in-a-China shop” steps because of inexperience and a nation hungry that the guilty be brought to justice. In the process a number of well-known businessmen were hauled up and subjected to extreme discomfort, if not third degree treatment. Obviously this was playing to the gallery and the people of Pakistan were generally delighted at what they thought was just retribution for those who had looted the country’s wealth for over five decades. It soon transpired that at least some of the process was out of personal motivation, others were not well thought out. Some of those held were totally innocent. One after the other, those who could connect and/or compromise made their way back to freedom. The failure of NAB to hold those clearly guilty, particularly due to lack of evidence and despite the draconian NAB Ordinance, was extremely disappointing for both the intelligentsia and the masses of Pakistan. Perception is nine-tenths of the law, a backlash set in. To obtain results Amjad resorted to legitimising dishonesty, an amendment was enacted to NABO wherein if you returned the illegal wealth and/or penalties thereof imposed by the Chairman NAB, you could escape punishment. This undercut the moral authority of NAB to function.

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Legitimising Dishonesty

Most coups are popular with the public at the time of their launching, very few survive the test of time. The coup-makers arrive full of sincere intentions, a burning will to correct the anomalies that endanger the State and a stated resolve not to allow temptations of the good life to get to them. Unfortunately they almost always fall prey to the system they are sworn to rectify. The Oct 12 event seemed to be different but is showing ominous signs of being headed the same way. Man for man the principal actors of Oct 12 are professionally far more competent than their predecessor coup-makers (1958, 1977 and 1989), very surprising, therefore, that the lessons learnt at very hard cost to the reputation of the uniform have been lost, or so it would seem. Cynics claimed that Oct 12 came about because Musharraf’s close aides wanted to save their jobs rather than motivation by any high-minded vision for Pakistan, they were swept aside by the groundswell of mass public opinion favouring the take-over. As we all know perceptions change with time, eventually they count more than facts, public impatience at the continuing status quo may not be justified but it is a key factor.

The chapter on “Aid to Civil Power” in the Manual of Pakistan Military Law (MPML), highlights the threat of the use of force being more potent than the use of force itself. Conversely when force is applied it must be effective. Internal Security (IS) Duties require that even the threat of force must be used sparingly, the body that represents that force must necessarily be kept aloof from the populace to maintain mystique, familiarity breeding contempt. This military regime, albeit in good faith, has seen fit to break this dictum, a broad spectrum of the rank and file getting involved with nearly every administrative process in day-to-day governance. From maintaining macro-accountability as the principal aim, the Army has come down symbolically to meter-reading. Given that the whole political and administrative machinery was rotten to the core, the Army needed to be kept sacrosanct from the taint of pervasive corruption. The revenues have indeed increased, not only because of the khaki meter readers but because of the “monitors” spreading out in various spheres, but at what cost to the Army? And what happens when they go back to the barracks? The worst decision was to include serving uniformed personnel in the tax survey teams for documenting the economy. If the facts are reported by the ISI, MI and Field Intelligence units as they are and not as the seniors would like to hear them, the military hierarchy could evaluate the damage to the uniform because of the traders confrontation with the survey teams. The CBR suckered the Army into this morass to shield their own inefficiency and corruption, the numbers being announced are a farce with which the Ministry of Finance is fooling GHQ. Remember who are the past masters of fudging figures? Most of those returning the forms are already registered tax-payers. Documentation does not need survey teams, it could have been done within the four walls with the available telephone, gas, electricity and water bills, collating these with property records with the Registrars. Random surveys should have followed documentation. Far worse than a simple protest against tax surveys, the authority of civilised society to conduct the legal business of a State has been challenged, that invisible mandate being the foundation of any civilisation. The State has to impose taxes to meet its expenditures, that revenue is the fuel that generates governance. Refusing to pay taxes to the British, the Americans tossed tea chests into Boston Harbour as a protest, it is now known in American History as the “The Boston Tea Party”. What does Umar Sailya”s burning of tax survey forms on the front pages of all newspapers amount to, “The Karachi Mango Party”? And could Umar Sailya be a modern day Daniel Boone? More important the power of the military has been questioned, this public defiance of authority cannot go unchallenged, lack of counter-action will weaken the ability of the institution that holds Pakistan together. Others with far deadlier intentions lurk in the shadows. Will the senior military hierarchy kindly wake up to this very present threat? Or have they succumbed to business as usual, getting contracts for cronies, savouring the trappings of power? Was the Oct 12 coup then really a matter of saving jobs? Whatever happened to Clauswitz and the first principle of war, “the selection and maintenance of aim”?

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The Curse of Corruption

Despite the excellent work being done by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), corruption is alive and well and prospering in Pakistan. Unlike Saifur Rahman’s Ehtesab Bureau (EB) which targeted only the real or perceived enemies of Saif’s mentor or Saif himself, mostly not in that order, NAB has established a reputation for being even-handed even though sometimes they can be ham-handed. As the NAB Chief has himself acknowledged, where the target was not politically motivated EB did some good work. In balance EB failed because it differentiated between friend and foe in holding only foes accountable. The public perception about NAB is that they are going about their business without fear or favour though it is unfortunate that the “physicians have been restrained the healing either themselves or the judiciary”. This restriction undercuts the absolute credibility NAB badly needs and for that matter, deserves. However something is better than nothing, the already beggared can hardly be choosers, one’s only recourse is to be satisfied with whatever crumbs are thrown one’s way, at least a few of the infamous are being held accountable. Amjad has lived upto the reputation he arrived with to establish NAB, that in itself is a very positive sign. The character and integrity of leadership of any entity must not only be above question, it must be genuinely and universally admired to be of support to the ultimate purpose of its existence, in this case accountability with credibility.

Whether it is NAB or any other accountability unit, its effectiveness is only as potent as the integrity of its personnel, especially its lead managers and investigators. Unfortunately entities tend to misuse the military’s determination to wipe out corruption for their own nefarious purposes. Let us take the example of the 1000 or so CBR people dismissed by the Government. First of all, the purge was weighted in favour of the senior CBR personnel, the fact is that most of the corruption is at the top. Yet 850 of the 1000 suspended were class 3 employees, making a pittance for their own pockets compared to those in the upper echelon. And except for a handful of notorious cases among the senior CBR personnel, the rest were those generally without any “connection”. In the meantime, the corrupt thrive on the strength of this cleansing, they now have an open cheque to loot the country. The disappointment among the more honest CBR personnel was double, shock at seeing some genuinely honest persons among the “death” list, frustration as well as confusion at the very known corrupt surviving the axe. The question one asks, why was this cleansing operation muddied? And by whom? “Why” we can easily answer, to frustrate the process of accountability in CBR, “by whom” is more difficult.

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The Bill O’Reillys of the World

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is reported to have signed up with a number of assets-tracing firms for recovery of the billions that have been looted from Pakistan. Since NAB officials have been going to London and New York, the safe bet is that most of the agreements, believed to be on percentage basis without a contingency or mobilization fee for expenses, have been signed up with western firms. This is indeed very welcome news and though one has reservations about the credibility and integrity of some elements associated with NAB, one must congratulate them on this initiative. No doubt some well-known foreign firms have a tremendous capability to uncover assets, however NAB must be careful and blacklist those firms who dragged their feet for reasons unknown when they were previously employed by Pakistan. The recovery itself will be a long, legal process that takes some doing because the accounts and assets are mostly never directly in the name of the person who stole the money but in a myriad number of off-shore firms, names of close relatives, etc. The financial structure is done with the aim of avoiding discovery. One owner of US$ 500 million plus in assets abroad claims ingenuously that these are all his wife’s business and since she is British, she is not accountable to Pakistan. One may well ask, what fortune did his wife inherit and/or what business was she engaged in to successfully acquire all this wealth abroad?

Due credit must be given to NAB for nabbing one of this country’s virtually untouchables, the owner of a huge business empire that specializes in the sophisticated evasion of taxes, custom and excise duties. Protected by a combination of bureaucrats on their payroll (including some from the investigating agencies) as well as brilliant lawyers who sell their conscience for a fat fee (and should themselves be investigated for evading taxes, since their honoraria is received in cash and mostly in foreign exchange), these characters have acquired such power and influence that they have actually managed to have a beach within the precincts of the city reclaimed using the cover of creating of a public park, probably the first in the world and without a murmur of protest from any environmentalist. Another major tax-evader who was being pursued by a previous CBR Chairman is flourishing on the basis of his “connections” in the present arrangement. Coincidentally, these characters jointly own a major western franchise, a convenient arrangement not only to launder black money but also to make their reputations kosher. One generation later nobody will remember how they made their fortunes. And a government minister who knows (or should know) has the effrontery to call these people as young “dynamic entrepreneurs”. The fact that at least one of the groups has been hauled up by NAB, despite their professed “connections”: speaks well of the integrity of the accountability process, no doubt the days for the others are also numbered, subject to the influence they wield, of course.

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