Credibility of accountability – Pakistan

Amid the current political turmoil, accountability and the National Office of Accountability (NAB) occupy a prominent place. On the one hand, there is a passionate section of the population eager to punish and even "hang" anyone who, in their opinion, has plundered national wealth. NAB is the main instrument through which they wish to fulfill their wishes, since the institution has been at the center of this momentum of responsibility in recent years. On the other hand, there is a considerable and growing lobby that believes that the accountability process is not fair and impartial and is becoming a tool of political victimization.

Read: Talk about dangerous unequal accountability: CJP

Several politicians, businessmen and public officials have complained and protested how the accountability process is carried out, but the most authoritative statement on the issue was given by the President of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Asif Saeed Khosa, while He spoke recently at the beginning of the new judicial year. Without saying a word, he said: "We … feel that the growing perception that the accountability process that is taking place in the country today is uneven and is part of political engineering, is a dangerous perception and some corrective measures must be taken urgently. " so that the process does not lose credibility … The recovery of the stolen wealth of citizenship is a noble cause and must be prosecuted legitimately and legally where it belongs, but if in the process the constitutional and legal morality of society and the recognized standards of equity and impartiality are compromised, so the recovery of lost constitutional and legal morality can represent an even greater challenge for society in general in the days ahead. "

It was very surprising that despite the fact that these powerful words were pronounced by the highest judicial authority of the country in an important event, the interested institutions did not pay much attention nor was there a great change in the conduct of NAB.

NAB is the last of the accountability mechanisms that Pakistan has experienced over the past 70 years or so. In the first years, its performance and political neutrality remained above the board; that is, until General Pervez Musharraf, at the beginning of whose term he was established, acquired his own political ambitions. NAB then became the main institution through which politicians were forced to change their loyalty to Musharraf and his favorite political party, the PML-Q. Since then, although NAB has done a commendable job, its reputation as a neutral state institution has never recovered.

The determination of political scores has been the real objective of accountability mechanisms in Pakistan.

NAB is not the first such institution to which unilateral responsibility and political engineering are attributed in Pakistan. This country has a long history of enacting laws and creating institutions apparently for the sake of accountability, but whose main objective was to target a particular sector of society, especially the one that was not on the right side of the government of the time. .

The first constituent assembly of Pakistan passed the controversial Law of the Office of Public Representation (Disqualification) of 1949 (Proda) that provided for the trial of public office holders and disqualification to hold public office for up to 15 years. The law was completely misused against political opponents.

In March 1959, the administration of the martial law of Gen Ayub Khan promulgated the Order (Pruning) of Public Offices (Disqualification) in the line of Proda. Then he went a step further and also promulgated the Order of the Elective Bodies (Disqualification) in August 1959. Ebdo was destined to get rid of all those political elements that could offer resistance or stand in the way of General Ayub's political ambitions. The system did not forgive anyone against whom the slightest charge of misconduct could be investigated. Ebdo also foresaw the possibility of a voluntary retirement, in which case the investigation against the public official should be withdrawn. Ebdo hit more than 6,000 people, most of whom chose to retire or were disqualified.

In the post-Musharraf era, both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto used their own peculiar accountability devices to destroy their political opponents. Even the presidents of the country acted partisanly when they established special responsibility cells within the presidency to institute cases against the prime ministers dismissed by them.

The Ehtesab Bureau established between 1997 and 1999 by then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif under Senator Saifur Rehman gained special notoriety for torturing and aggressively condemning political opponents, especially Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Zardari. This story sadly tells us that impartial responsibility may never have been the objective; The idea was to resolve political scores in the form of responsibility.

The NAB law improved after being amended to provide for the bipartisan appointment of the NAB president by the prime minister after a significant consultation with the opposition leader. But 20 years later, after experimenting with various brands of responsibility, NAO 1999, or the NAB law, as it is most commonly known, needs to be reformed because the accountability process must inspire respect and credibility in all areas. If the NAB law has not been amended so far, NAB is not to blame: it is the responsibility of the main political parties represented in parliament to amend the law and introduce the necessary reforms. The PML-N and the PPP agreed to these reforms in their Democracy Charter, but during their government mandates between 2008-2013 and 2013-2018, they did not modify the law.

Even now, there seems to be a broad agreement between the main parties, including the PTI, on the need to improve the NAB law, but the political confrontation does not allow them to approve the required amendments. Only a few days ago, among a series of ordinances annulled in the National Assembly by PTI legislators, it was stipulated that those convicted by the NAB law for having committed corruption of more than 50 million rupees will be imprisoned as class C prisoners.

As long as political expediency and the temptation to harm political opponents remain the priority, the accountability process will continue to be perceived as a political engineering tool, to borrow the term used by the President of Justice of Pakistan.

The writer is president of the Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency of Pakistan.

[email protected]

Twitter: @ABMPildat

Posted in Dawn, November 10, 2019



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