The one who is in charge

The Pak Banker - - EDITORIAL - Asha'ar Rehman

IT might have come sooner than most peo­ple ex­pected. Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif has just hit out at the ex­cesses com­mit­ted by the Na­tional Ac­count­abil­ity Bureau. Ris­ing above his usual, tol­er­ant tone in Ba­hawalpur ear­lier this week, he told the bureau to not ha­rass and in­tim­i­date. On cue the Pun­jab law min­is­ter, Rana Sanaullah, has re­minded one and all that the prime min­is­ter had ev­ery right to talk to NAB like that. It has been re­con­firmed that the prime min­is­ter is in charge. NAB has come up with its own po­lite re­sponse in which it has vowed to im­prove in the light of the new guide­lines from the prime min­is­ter - but that does not quite off­set the im­pact of the prime min­is­te­rial ad­mon­ish­ment.

That it has been con­sid­ered nec­es­sary to ex­plain just who is the boss here would in­di­cate some kind of progress. It may be taken as a sign that be­trays di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion, even progress on the build­ing of in­sti­tu­tions, which are nec­es­sary to aid the es­tab­lish­ment of democ­racy in the coun­try.

It will be ar­gued that NAB must have been do­ing some­thing worth­while to draw an an­gry re­ac­tion from some­one who ul­ti­mately be­longs to the ma­ligned political ranks. This point alone may ea­gerly be cited in sup­port of the as­ser­tion that af­ter so much con­fu­sion and di­ver­sion we had stum­bled upon the right path.

Wish things were as sim­ple as that. As re­al­i­ties go the next phase might have some im­por­tant peo­ple telling NAB to cor­rect it­self in line with the prime min­is­te­rial cen­sure. One more time the ad­vice will be for the ac­count­abil­ity bureau to take stock and come up with prag­matic es­ti­mates of what it wants to achieve with­out ' un­duly' pur­su­ing some cases and court­ing con­tro­versy.

It will be told that it must be pre­pared to spare and not be en­tan­gled with some sa­cred souls for the greater good of the sys­tem and the peo­ple. It must be pre­pared to make this com­pro­mise for the greater good of ev­ery­one here.

There has cer­tainly been some change. Th­ese days, once a govern­ment func­tionary has been called out by a big­ger govern­ment func­tionary you are never sure if the two will be able to rec­on­cile. They would dis­agree in the past as well, some­times in pub­lic, but the chances of a patch-up be­tween of­fi­cials would be less to­day than used to be the case then. For what­ever present and fu­ture pos­si­bil­i­ties it may present, there are more govern­ment func­tionar­ies in the coun­try to­day who be­lieve that they are in charge of a par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion than was ever the case in the past.

NAB seek­ing to as­sert its role is just one in­stance of this grow­ing sense of em­pow­er­ment. But it can­not ob­vi­ously ex­ist all by it­self. For all we know it might al­ready be tread­ing cau­tiously and might have been a bit taken aback by this crit­i­cism by Prime Min­is­ter Sharif. But given the role the mod­ern de­mands cast it in, nei­ther NAB nor any other anti-cor­rup­tion bureau which wants to move un­der the ti­tle of 'na­tional' can hope for a long, en­dur­ing, sta­ble re­la­tion­ship with a govern­ment.

It is in the na­ture of democ­racy to keep throw­ing the cor­rupt up and out. The process and the im­ages it gen­er­ates are ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial for the peo­ple to keep be­liev­ing in the ef­fi­cacy of the sys­tem. Fol­low­ing on that, it will be ab­so­lutely use­less if a na­tional and ra­tio­nal ac­count­abil­ity bureau does lit­tle more than trace the cor­rup­tion of those who were in power once and ig­nore those who are at the helm now.

For the ben­e­fit of its users, the sys­tem must be able to name and shame a few from amongst those who are in power cur­rently. Ei­ther it does that or it ex­poses it­self as in­ef­fi­cient.

The next fight then would be over the ones the party and per­son in power are pre­pared to spare for a probe by the ac­count­abil­ity bureau and cas­ti­ga­tion by the pub­lic, which may start the mo­ment the peo­ple get to know that an in­ves­ti­ga­tion is un­der way.

There have to be those who are more wor­thy of pro­tec­tion and de­fence than oth­ers who must be put on the stage for in­ter­ro­ga­tion and for keep­ing the pop­u­lar in­ter­est in the demo­cratic set-up alive. And to­day, this in­ter­est can­not be sus­tained with­out the sit­ting govern­ment pledg­ing names from its own ranks for in­ves­ti­ga­tion and per­se­cu­tion.

The PPP has shown by ex­am­ple how a party can be less ag­i­tated by the trial and per­se­cu­tion of a few of its mem­bers un­til it rises to the de­fence of those it must pro­tect in all sit­u­a­tions. The feel­ing may be that the PML-N's turn has come all too quickly but the shock has to be over­come fast. The rul­ing party must not ig­nore it. It must now de­cide who and when it wants to guard against the sus­pected ad­vance of an ac­count­abil­ity bureau that could be out to prove its worth - and which is backed by other im­por­tant ac­tors and by pop­u­lar sen­ti­ment.

Ig­nor­ing the bureau's right to in­ves­ti­gate would serve no pur­pose. An­grily re­act­ing to its reach would be even more dan­ger­ous when we all know that the out­rage could be saved for a later time and for in­di­vid­u­als wor­thier of pro­tec­tion. Sooner rather than later the rul­ing party must be seen by the peo­ple to be of­fer­ing parts of its own house for in­spec­tion, probe and ac­tion.

Those in power may be wary of an op­po­si­tion party that thrives on its an­ticor­rup­tion slo­gans but at the same time they must find ways of feed­ing those who feel they are in full charge of the ac­count­abil­ity process. The po­lite NAB re­sponse to the prime min­is­te­rial rep­ri­mand aside, the PML-N must come around to com­mit­ting it­self to the cleans­ing that all political par­ties must un­dergo from time to time.

That's where the ex­pend­able the par­ties al­ways have in their ranks come in so handy.

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