Ac­count­abil­ity woes

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Sameer Khosa

LAST month, the di­rec­tor gen­eral of KP's Eht­esab Com­mis­sion re­signed in protest at cer­tain amend­ments brought about through an or­di­nance by the pro­vin­cial govern­ment. On Feb 28, Imran Khan an­nounced that the amend­ments would be with­drawn and a com­pre­hen­sive amend­ment bill pre­sented in the pro­vin­cial as­sem­bly aimed at ' en­sur­ing' and 'strength­en­ing ef­fec­tive and in­de­pen­dent ac­count­abil­ity'.

In­ter­est­ingly, it is still not clear what aspects of the law needed strength­en­ing to in­crease the ef­fec­tive­ness or in­de­pen­dence of ac­count­abil­ity. Cer­tainly, if one is to ex­am­ine the amend­ments that were made un­der the or­di­nance, they do not seem to have been made in that spirit.

Some of the (many) changes in­cluded pro­hibit­ing the ini­ti­a­tion of any in­quiry on an anony­mous com­plaint, the in­tro­duc­tion of fines on the com­plainant if a com­plaint is found friv­o­lous, re­quir­ing that the chief sec­re­tary of the prov­ince is in­ti­mated prior to the ar­rest of any civil ser­vant, and that prior to ar­rest­ing any leg­is­la­tor in­ti­ma­tion to the chair/speaker of the rel­e­vant body must be given.

Ac­count­abil­ity is easy when di­rected to­wards oth­ers. In ad­di­tion the pow­ers of the di­rec­tor gen­eral were re­duced and those of the five-mem­ber Eht­esab Com­mis­sion were in­creased (by trans­fer­ring the power to ap­prove ar­rest, and charges against an ac­cused from the di­rec­tor gen­eral to the com­mis­sion).

The pro­hi­bi­tion on anony­mous com- plaints and the in­tro­duc­tion of fines is ob­vi­ously meant to dis­cour­age anony­mous com­plaints. The trans­fer of the power to ap­prove ar­rest and frame charges from the di­rec­tor gen­eral to a five-mem­ber body is ob­vi­ously meant to re­duce in­stances of ar­rest. Fur­ther, it is hard to see what use­ful good faith pur­poses prior in­ti­ma­tion of the ar­rest of bu­reau­crats or leg­is­la­tors is meant to achieve.

For many years, Imran Khan has de­cried the fact that there is one law for the com­mon peo­ple in Pak­istan and an­other set of rules ap­plies to the elite. Yet, in th­ese amend­ments, by mak­ing prior in­ti­ma­tion nec­es­sary be­fore the ar­rest of bu­reau­crats and leg­is­la­tors, the PTI-led govern­ment seems to have done ex­actly the same thing.

Fur­ther, we have not seen the PTI leader claim that the prov­ince's ac­count­abil­ity law is be­ing abused - in fact he has re­peat­edly cham­pi­oned it. Then one fails to see what good faith mo­tive there can be for amend­ments that would only have made sense if the law was be­ing abused and re­quired ad­di­tional checks and bal­ances. In fact, the PTI is not the only party strug­gling with ac­count­abil­ity bod­ies. The MQM has been com­plain­ing for months that the Rangers-led Karachi op­er­a­tion is tar­get­ing the MQM un­fairly.

Re­cently, there was also a very pub­lic rift be­tween the PPP-led Sindh govern­ment and the cen­tre on the pow­ers to be ex­er­cised by the Rangers when the Sindh As­sem­bly passed a res­o­lu­tion re­strict­ing the scope of of­fences that the Rangers could in­ves­ti­gate, mak­ing prior writ­ten ap­proval of the chief sec­re­tary nec­es­sary be­fore raid­ing any govern­ment of­fice, and mak­ing prior writ­ten ap­proval of the chief min­is­ter nec­es­sary be­fore cer­tain in­di­vid­u­als were taken into preven­tive de­ten­tion. Then last month the prime min­is­ter stated that un­less the chair­man NAB (ap­pointed, by the way, af­ter con­sul­ta­tion be­tween the prime min­is­ter and op­po­si­tion leader) ad­dressed the con­cerns he had ex­pressed, the govern­ment would con­sider tak­ing le­gal ac­tion.

The ar­gu­ment on the other side is gen­er­ally that the ac­count­abil­ity process is in­ter­fer­ing with the work of the govern­ment, ha­rass­ing of­fi­cials, and caus­ing paral­y­sis in de­ci­sion-mak­ing due to a cli­mate of fear.

How­ever, this ar­gu­ment is be­lied by con­ve­nience of its own mak­ing. The PTI does not say this of NAB - whom it wants to be more ag­gres­sive - but di­lutes its own Eht­esab Com­mis­sion. The PML-N does not say this of Rangers - whom it wants to con­tinue the way it has been go­ing - but threat­ens NAB. And the PPP wants NAB to be sim­i­larly ac­tive in Pun­jab.

Here is the crux of the prob­lem: ac­count­abil­ity is easy when it is di­rected to­wards oth­ers but a lot less com­fort­able when di­rected in­ward. Pre­cisely be­cause there is in­cen­tive for in­cum­bent gov­ern­ments to in­ter­fere in ac­count­abil­ity di­rected against them, such bod­ies are re­quired to have a mea­sure of au­ton­omy to avoid the prospect of un­due in­flu­ence.

Politi­cians are in the un­com­fort­able (or en­vi­able?) po­si­tion of hav­ing to draft the laws gov­ern­ing their own ac­count­abil­ity. There­fore, the in­cen­tive to curb the power of such bod­ies, leave loop­holes in the law, af­ford pref­er­en­tial treat­ment to some classes, re­strict the pos­si­bil­ity of anony­mous com­plaints, and take other such steps is easy to see.

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