Putting accountability on a halt

The national politics is turning into a game of vested interests. Each political party keeps its own interest supreme and is busy manipulating the legislation process upon its turn after coming into power

The country’s accountability system has faced a jolt as accountability courts have returned 50 major corruption cases against suspects, including Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Hamza Shehbaz, Yousaf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervez Ashraf. It means that most of the cases were filed against those linked with the incumbent coalition government. The development is a result of the passage of a controversial National Accountability (Second Amendment) Bill, 2021 in the National Assembly.

Putting the much-needed process of accountability to a halt, the coalition government is taking a solo flight in parliament and is busy doing legislation that suits its interest. In fact, national politics is turning into a game of vested interests. Each political party keeps its own interest supreme and is busy manipulating the legislation process upon its turn after coming into power.

Everybody knows that the PML-N and PPP leadership were under the radar of the NAB as they have been facing various inquiries. Therefore, changes introduced mostly relate to clipping the powers of NAB as tough conditions have been imposed for officials probing financial irregularities. The onus of providing evidence has been put on NAB officials and any lapse in performing their duty as per law can result in their imprisonment. Moreover, accountability courts have no jurisdiction to try cases involving an amount less than Rs500 million as such all such references have been sent back to the anti-graft watchdog to file them at the relevant forums, which will not happen in the near future. Through these amendments, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has been made a toothless authority and it would be better to shut down NAB instead of using it for vested interests. Clipping the powers of NAB is not a solution. The institution should be scrapped or made stronger enough to conduct impartial inquiries against any corrupt person irrespective of his status in society.

Questions are also being raised about the justice system and accountability process in the country. Ostensibly, it is a great setback for the NAB. The eradication of corruption has always been a challenge and chronic problem in Pakistan. At present, the most crucial problem for the country is that it has been the victim of corruption for so long that it has permeated all levels of society. Each citizen encounters this problem at some stage of his/her life. Corruption is prevalent in all departments and those, who are supposed to eliminate this menace, are themselves found involved in corrupt practices. Politicians and bureaucrats are mainly responsible for this evil phenomenon and they have to perform self-accountability for making a corruption-free Pakistan. It is the reasonability of the incumbent government to clear its position regarding the process of accountability. The main accusation against the Sharif family is that it has failed to provide a money trail of its assets. Since the disclosure of the corruption cases, the leadership of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has failed to respond to allegations of corruption. So far the members of the Sharif family including Nawaz Sharif, his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif and daughter Maryam Nawaz are facing trial by NAB. The Sharif family has accused the government that all these cases are politically motivated. Yet the reality cannot be denied that most of the news about the Sharif family’s assets has been broken by the international media. Therefore, the onus of responsibility lies on the Sharif family to either own these assets or sue the international media for publishing false news.

The PML-N leadership would have to realise that it is in its own interest to take substantive steps over the issue of accountability, starting from the top. Even on the electoral level by showing the electorate that it is responsive to issues of corruption and transparency, the party can reclaim the space that the PTI has appropriated for itself by capitalising on the corruption cases controversy. Mature political parties do not depend on the cult of a few individuals, rather, they develop within themselves the institutional capacity to be much more than the sum of their leadership. However, the dependence of the PML-N on the Sharif family has led to it completely shielding the Sharif family from proper investigation into the allegations that have been raised against it time and again. And hence, it is the duty of the concerned authorities to present credible evidence to pressurise the PML-N into being more accountable. This is how democracy works, and it would do well for PML-N to pay heed to this, and not just pay lip service to democratic principles whenever it suits it.

It is high time politicians grew up and started taking right decisions in the best interest of the country and its masses. It is the responsibility of both the government and the opposition to sit together and find a pragmatic solution instead of fighting on the streets. The best platform to resolve all these issues is parliament where all elected representatives of people can converge to evolve a strategy to address the serious issue of accountability.

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