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Politics of Ehtisab by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

Almost every military dictator and political party in Pakistan claim to be against corruption and promise to eradicate it with an iron resolve to conduct ehtisab (accountability). But the reality is that it is an empty rhetoric used by political and military elite of the country to deceive the nation. Fact is that hardly any prominent politician, bureaucrat or general has been punished for it. This debate once again came to the fore when PTI KP government amended the Ehtisab Commission Act in a hurry and Director General KP Ehtisab Commission resigned in protest. I have never supported creation of NAB or provincial ehtisab commissions for two reasons. First these are mostly platforms for political arm twisting rather than to prosecute corruption. Second it will waste national resources. In most instances these entities are meant to give certificate of cleanness rather than prosecute. If NAB or a court issue judgement of innocence against a politicians let’s say Asif Ali Zardari then who am I or you to call him corrupt. But what is the consequence of these judgements the public perception is that not only Zardari but also judiciary and prosecution are corrupt. It results in demoralization, frustration and in some cases extremism. I am not suggesting that there should be no effort to punish or control corruption of public entities and elected officials. So then how it should be done.

One of the main reasons for the fall of Ottoman Empire is attributed to multiplicity of it’s judiciary. For every ethnic and sectarian group there was a separate court. For law to work effectively it is important to maintain clarity and reduce overlap in terms of prosecution and judicial functions of the state. Creation of multiple organs with overlapping responsibility in most cases benefit criminals and promote corruption as it results in a turf war. In Pakistan we have a supreme court and provincial courts. But that is not where it ends. We now have military courts and Federal Crimes Regulations in FATA. Similarly we have local police, FIA and NAB/EC. Then we have ministry of law but at the same time special investigation units of every stripe and color. These redundancies and anomalies have to be removed. Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) should be mandated with prosecution of white collar crimes committed by any citizen whether a bureaucrat, politician, general or private enterprise. There is no need for provincial ehtisab commissions as well because most large contracts are funded by federal funds and should come under the jurisdiction of FIA. NAB staff can be absorbed in the white collar crime division of FIA since they have acquired expertise in this area.

National and provincial assemblies as well as senate should constitute ethics committees that are mandated with ensuring compliance with a code of conduct outlining public behavior of its members especially in terms of respect for constitution, limits of authority and financial abuse. The proceedings of the committee should be public hearings and reported in print and electronic media. Any member found engaged in corruption or unethical practices should be punished and barred from future elections in extreme cases. This will build extra pressure on members of parliament.

Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has miserably failed to regulate political parties. It has never punished any of the political party for awarding tickets to candidates that are implicated in corruption or criminal cases. ECP should punish parties for their breach of public trust for disappointing its members and violate mandate given to it by voters when any sitting member parliament is found guilty of corruption. Another step ECP can take is to allow recall election whereby a certain percentage of voters can petition ECP to hold fresh elections in their constituency. There should be substantial barrier for such petitions and transparency should be built into the system. For instance that no petitioner should be member of any political party or that certain evidence has to be provided that demonstrate that member has lost mandate. Record of voting on bills are an indication of whether they comply with election promises or not.

The point I am trying to make is that there are many ways to contain and punish corruption rather than create duplicate organs like NAB or Ehtisab Commission. The most important ingredient is resolve which has been missing and commitment should be long term rather than adhoc. The first reaction of the bureaucracy against any effort to punish corruption is to slow down and create social unrest by frustrating the people through delayed services or artificial shortages. This is a substantial risk to any democratic government especially when there is lack of resolve to engage in it anyways. This can be mitigated to some extent by taking people into confidence. We can learn from the example of President Xi Jinping of China who experienced backlash from bureaucracy when war against corruption was launched by him.

Rise of large scale corruption, like any other criminal activity, is a result of failure of justice system as well as an alliance among elites of a nation. This is the situation in Pakistan as well. Judiciary is showing signs of life although they still have to demonstrate it through reforms to offer speedy and affordable justice. But the alliance among elite seems to be getting stronger rather than getting weakened. Any popular movement that has mass support is a threat to these elite. The complete destruction of the ideology of Pakistan Tehrike Insaf (PTI) and reputation of its Chairman Imran Khan demonstrates the capability and ability of the elite to penetrate any organization that seems threatening to their interests. Earlier similar tactics were used against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and PPP. In KP the government is not representing PTI ideology rather it is a government run by status quo politicians that protect their vested interests rather than deliver to the people. Imran Khan’s failure to act decisively against them has damaged his popularity and prestige severely. But many in PTI, including myself, are still standing firm against this onslaught of status quo. We refuse to accept their authority and legitimacy to take complete control of the party and its decision making. This battle is now entering its final stages as all party organization are dissolved for next intra-party elections.

Pakistan is going through a transitional period and its politics are evolving. Some more struggle is required to break the hold of elites to allow emergence of a stable, prosperous, and united nation. Military intervention in politics at this critical stage will only delay emergence of a better Pakistan and should be avoided at all cost.

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