Panama Leaks & ac­count­abil­ity

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIALS & COMMENTS - Sul­tan M Hali

in­ves­ti­gate the charges of cor­rup­tion and wrong­do­ing but the CJP re­sponded that fresh leg­is­la­tion was re­quired to em­power the ju­di­ciary to in­ves­ti­gate the politi­cians.

The Prime Min­is­ter squan­dered the prospect of deal­ing with the ac­cu­sa­tions squarely dur­ing his ad­dress to the Par­lia­ment by once again re­sort­ing to a tirade of how his fam­ily gath­ered wealth in­stead of con­cen­trat­ing on jointly evolv­ing a plan of ac­tion to re­solve the is­sue. Un­for­tu­nately, the op­po­si­tion too seemed to be in dis­ar­ray. In­stead of grilling the Prime Min­is­ter for his lack of trans­parency in re­spond­ing to the seven ques­tions fielded by the op­po­si­tion, they chose to walk out of the Par­lia­ment. The gov­ern­ment benches thus claimed vic­tory.

Pak­istan, which is be­set by myr­iad prob­lems of a dwin­dling econ­omy, acute power short­age, ter­ror at­tacks, law­less­ness, un­em­ploy­ment and lack of ed­u­ca­tional and health fa­cil­i­ties, can­not af­ford a po­lit­i­cal tur­moil at this stage. The rul­ing dis­pen­sa­tion, the PML-N needs not to adopt a flip­pant at­ti­tude to­wards the op­po­si­tion as it is un­likely that the im­pact of the Panama leaks will fade away. The cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is dif­fer­ent from what it was when the PTI launched its 2014 sit-in. The PM should take cog­nizance of the ground re­al­i­ties, where all the po­lit­i­cal par­ties and re­li­gious groups if rally to­gether to chal­lenge the PML-N, can de­rail the gov­ern­ment.

Op­po­si­tion’s cur­rent stance to­wards the form and func­tion of the pro­posed in­quiry com­mis­sion and its ToRs are not un­rea­son­able. Due to some in­her­ent short­com­ings, the Act VI of 1956 doesn’t ad­e­quately em­power an in­quiry com­mis­sion to thor­oughly probe and con­clu­sively de­ter­mine Email: sm_hali@ya­ any com­plex ques­tion or an is­sue like a probe in the case of Panama Pa­pers rev­e­la­tions. The gov­ern­ment should now form an in­quiry com­mis­sion on lines of Gen­eral Elec­tions2013 In­quiry Com­mis­sion Or­di­nance, 2015 af­ter fi­nal­iz­ing its ToRs in con­sul­ta­tion with the op­po­si­tion.

An­other di­men­sion of the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion is the grow­ing strain in civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tions in the back­drop of per­ceived anti-mil­i­tary pro­pa­ganda sus­pected to be floated by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment ech­e­lons. The army chief’s state­ment call­ing for an end to cor­rup­tion al­to­gether and the an­nounce­ment of puni­tive ac­tion against se­nior army of­fi­cers are viewed by PML-N loy­al­ists as pres­sure tac­tics against the gov­ern­ment.

The gov­ern­ment’s fight for sur­vival will com­pro­mise its ef­forts to ad­dress the is­sues of in­ter­nal se­cu­rity. The agenda for Madras­sah re­forms and so­ci­etal mo­bi­liza­tion for coun­ter­ing ex­trem­ism and ter­ror­ism will be put on the back-burner be­cause PMLN would not like to iso­late it­self from strong and in­flu­en­tial re­li­gious seg­ments at this very mo­ment. Let us ex­am­ine two res­o­lu­tions by PPP and PTI, which are be­ing moved in the Na­tional As­sem­bly to amend the Na­tional Ac­count­abil­ity Or­di­nance-1999. Whereas the PTI amend­ments aim at strength­en­ing the ex­ist­ing or­di­nance, the PPP de­sires to limit the or­di­nance ju­ris­dic­tion to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment only per­haps be­cause the PPP is rul­ing Sind and its cup­board is full of skele­tons.

If the PPP amend­ment were to be adopted, it would make the en­tire ac­count­abil­ity process dys­func­tional. What­ever lit­tle de­ter­rent ex­ists against cor­rup­tion would be lifted. Pro­vin­cial ac­count­abil­ity mech­a­nisms are likely to be po­lit­i­cally aligned and while pro­tect­ing own party mem­bers/ sup­port­ers would tar­get the op­po­nents. The amend­ment is ill-timed and is likely to en­cour­age cor­rup­tion rather than curb­ing it. On the other hand, if the PTI’s pro­posed amend­ments for elec­tion of Chair­man NAB, end of plea bar­gain, abol­ish­ing of dis­cre­tionary pow­ers of Chair­man to par­don ac­cused are adopted, the leg­is­la­tion would greatly strengthen the ac­count­abil­ity or­di­nance. The pro­posed amend­ments of PTI which if adopted – would greatly im­prove the ac­count­abil­ity process.

The ball is back in the court of the Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans from both sides of the di­vide. The Trea­sury benches would like to de­fend their be­lea­guered leader while the op­po­si­tion would like noth­ing bet­ter than to see the down­fall of the house of Sharif. The mat­ter must be re­solved within the par­lia­ment by in­vok­ing the pow­ers of the house to for­mu­late laws or amend the ex­ist­ing ones to have across the board ac­count­abil­ity. A leaf may be taken out of the Army’s book, which has re­sorted to clean­ing its own house and has not spared even three and two star serv­ing Gen­er­als, found cul­pa­ble of cor­rup­tion.

If the op­po­si­tion were to re­sort to the use of street power, it would weaken the al­ready frail democ­racy, pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties to mis­cre­ants and ter­ror mon­gers to tar­get the un­pro­tected pro­tes­tors in the street and wane the con­fi­dence of for­eign in­vestors. The process of ac­count­abil­ity must in­clude even those politi­cians who are in the op­po­si­tion. Af­ter all what is sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gan­der. —The writer is re­tired PAF Group Cap­tain and a TV talk show host.

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