Ac­count­abil­ity: The Panama fac­tor

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION -

ICANNOT help but ad­mire Gen­eral Ra­heel. Af­ter he had named cor­rup­tion the core trou­ble of our so­ci­ety and had con­nected it to the war against ter­ror­ism while adding that cor­rup­tion is crip­pling all so­ci­ety and its in­sti­tu­tion, since last two days he is now back in the news with the in­for­ma­tion that six high-rank­ing of­fi­cers in­clud­ing two gen­eral have been re­moved i.e. forcibly re­tired from the army and ranks and perks in­clud­ing land and plots, ex­cept pen­sion and med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties have been taken back.

The speech of Gen­eral Ra­heel two days ago had trig­gered wide­spread ap­proval even from cir­cles where one would think that the ap­proval was meant rather in words than in deeds. Be­cause any such de­mand for fight­ing cor­rup­tion, for fight­ing ter­ror­ism and other ills are only cred­i­ble if and when the one who is mak­ing that de­mand while start­ing the re­form in one’s own house. I can fight ter­ror­ism only if I first make sure that none of my fam­ily/ in­sti­tu­tion is in any way con­nected to ter­ror­ism; I can fight cor­rup­tion if and when I put my own house in or­der first.

No land re­form – a pre­con­di­tion for fight­ing poverty- has ever suc­ceeded be­cause the ones who had de­manded it – like Z A Bhutto-where the big­gest land­lords them­selves and with­out their ex­am­ple of part­ing with the fam­ily land such a re­form was doomed. That is why the news about the de­mo­tion of high-rank­ing army per­sonal for cor­rup­tion is ex­actly the thing that can make the de­mand to fight cor­rup­tion cred­i­ble in Pakistan. In many at­tempts be­fore this one this prin­ci­ple had been dis­re­garded and ac­count­abil­ity was ex­tended in the first place to the ri­val (po­lit­i­cal) fac­tion for set­tling their po­lit­i­cal scores against each other.

My ex­pe­ri­ence of ac­count­abil­ity dur­ing Be­nazir Butto’s rule was frus­trat­ing; my even-handed ap­proach of ac­count­abil­ity was dis­liked by rul­ing junta, to ar­rest the men­ace which was flour­ish­ing among civil­ian bu­reau­cracy who were sub­mit­ting an­nual as­set dec­la­ra­tion two lines typed on a pa­per. When the FACC was not sat­is­fied with this a 22 col­umn per­forma was de­vised and sent to all de­part­ments. But this ef­fort also got blocked through cabinet de­ci­sion.

One thing was ap­pre­ci­ated at that time all army of­fi­cers work­ing in civil armed forces and FC and le­vis did com­ply with the or­der and sub­mit­ted the dec­la­ra­tion on a FACC per­forma. Trans­parency is an an­other es­sen­tial arm of ac­count­abil­ity, FACC tried for two years to get Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Law en­acted, this es­sen­tial re­quire­ment was also bull­dozed through a cabinet de­ci­sion against it.

This ul­ti­mately led to my res­ig­na­tion from the ac­count­abil­ity bureau in frus­tra­tion be­cause I found an un­holy al­liance be­tween the po­lit­i­cal par­ties who were us­ing ac­count­abil­ity to fool the peo­ple. While we can se­curely sup­pose that the army is not the worst hot­bed of cor­rup­tion it is not im­mune ei­ther. Thus an ac­count­abil­ity process was very much needed and it seems to have been go­ing on for quite a while. We learn that the of­fi­cers were re­moved af­ter a due process that has been go­ing on for over one year and other of­fi­cers are un­der scru­tiny as well.

This fact gives no­body in the whole of Pakistan to point fin­gers at the army or to ex­cuse one­self or one’s in­sti­tu­tion from ac­count­abil­ity, in­clud­ing the ju­di­ciary, the bu­reau­cracy and the politi­cians of course. This mat­ter also tells us some­thing else. While we have been writ­ing re­peat­edly that par­lia­men­tary democ­racy is not work­ing well in Pakistan and seems also un­able to im­prove it­self the mil­i­tary seems to have found now a way how to push for re­form with­out tak­ing over po­lit­i­cal power di­rectly and with­out ab­ro­gat­ing the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem. Gen­eral Ra­heel-led team is with his action prac­ti­cally prov­ing that they are dif­fer­ent from pre­vi­ous mil­i­tary com­mands and will not fol­low the prac­tice of past mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment. This is a step in the di­rec­tion of im­proved and good gov­er­nance and “per­sua­sive co-ex­is­tence” of the mil­i­tary and the civil­ian es­tab­lish­ment – two parts with­out which Pakistan can­not ex­ist.

This is a ma­jor de­vel­op­ment be­cause it means find­ing a new way to­wards rul­ing our coun­try in-be­tween a mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship and a mal­func­tion­ing democ­racy. In fu­ture a na­tional govern­ment of a five to six mem­ber coun­cil elect­ing one among them for one year in ro­ta­tion as Chief Ex­ec­u­tive/Prime Min­is­ter, over­see­ing the govern­ment func­tions su­per­vised through Manag­ing Di­rec­tor/Min­is­ter for each min­istry would be an al­ter­na­tive op­tion. Such a coun­cil will in first three years com­plete across-the­board ac­count­abil­ity in every walk of life and the re­main­ing six years will hold 2 gen­eral elec­tions for 3 year terms of na­tional and provin­cial as­sem­blies. This should also be made bind­ing on all such peo­ple sad­dled in a Na­tional govern­ment that be­fore and af­ter com­ple­tion of 10 year ten­ure they or their fam­ily mem­bers/ de­pen­dents chil­dren will not take part in pol­i­tics or seek elec­tion into any public of­fice, only then a cor­rup­tion free sys­tem can be de­vel­oped.

It is worth men­tion­ing that in May 1996, Head of US depart­ment of Govern­ment Ethics held a meet­ing with me in FACC of­fice Is­lam­abad, where while ap­pre­ci­at­ing FACC pro­gramme he ex­plained some of 18th Cen­tury de­vised US laws code of ethics like the “Sun­shine Act and Lobby Act” that have played a key role in con­trol­ling cor­rup­tion, which pro­vide guidelines to govern­ment of­fi­cials and public rep­re­sen­ta­tives that has made US sys­tem ac­count­able and work for the bet­ter­ment of peo­ple at large. A hall­mark of open govern­ment with max­i­mum trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity.

To make these ef­forts more ef­fec­tive now in the back­drop of in­creas­ing cor­rup­tion a UN Char­ter will be sup­ported that is for­mu­lat­ing Code of Con­duct for public of­fi­cials to erad­i­cate this men­ace. Pakistan – as many other coun­tries- is in the mid­dle of a Panama cri­sis and be­cause of this the army’s ac­count­abil­ity drive is even more im­por­tant. The per­sua­sion that is con­tained in the mil­i­tary’s ini­tia­tive to fight cor­rup­tion will put le­git­i­mate pres­sure on the sit­ting govern­ment when deal­ing with the Panama cri­sis.

The gap be­tween the legality of for­eign ac­counts and firms and the (im) -moral­ity of it has to be sorted out once and for­ever. Given its che­quered his­tory ac­count­abil­ity in Pakistan needs a watch­dog – a body ded­i­cated to the task and mon­i­tored closely in which no­body is con­sid­ered holy cow. The scru­tiny has to reach be­yond Panama and has to in­clude Swiss ac­counts, loan and rev­enue de­fault­ers and plun­der­ers, land grab­bers, money laun­der­ers and all hid­ing places of ill-got­ten money to get rid of mis­ery and poverty of the teem­ing mil­lions who are not re­spon­si­ble for this malaise. God bless Pakistan. —The writer is a se­nior colum­nist based in Karachi.

Ali Ashraf Khan

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