WEB DESK: We all know that National Accountability Bureau (NAB) played an active role in securing secure “political allegiance” for General Musharraf from a number of politicians of opponent political parties, notably PPP and PML (Nawaz) after 2002 general elections. During his seven-year-long rule (1999-2007), General Musharraf kept on publicly appreciating the role of NAB in fighting what he called “deep-rooted corruption”.
However, at the fag end of his rule, he provided shelter to the known corrupt through the infamous National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). This sadly reflected on our political culture-our military and civilian rulers alike have been paying lip service to end corruption but through their actions in fact promoting it.
The wages of appeasement towards the corrupt, tax evaders and plunderers of national wealth have almost crippled the State and justice system-those in power violate all the laws and rules with impunity and get scot free whereas the helpless and poor are punished for petty offences.
During the Musharraf-Shaukat era, many scandals appeared (the biggest one stock market crash of March 2005) but not a single case was registered. However, the cases filed by political forces-Nawaz and Benazir-against each others were kept alive by Musharraf to justify his unconstitutional rule. He kept on telling the nation that all the political leaders were corrupt, hence, not worth giving power. In his last days, he was compelled by his protectors in Washington and London to “negotiate” with what he called “the hopeless, corrupt politicians”. He offered them general amnesty, through NRO was later declared unconstitutional by the apex court.
Addressing a workshop of cabinet members in Islamabad on February 14, 2005, General Musharraf praised the NAB claiming that “it has done a remarkable job” in eliminating the menace of corruption. He said that “NAB is not a tool for political victimisation”. On the same day, Standing Committee of National Assembly on Water & Power expressed grave concern over the use of sub-standard steel in the Ghazi Brotha Hydropower Project (GBHP) that reportedly caused a loss of Rs 80 billion to the national exchequer.
According to a report published on the same day in a national daily, the NAB Intelligence Wing recovered Rs 40 million from accused Major M. A. Lodhi (Retd). This episode raised a question in the minds of ordinary Pakistanis about the role of NAB in combating corruption. After Musharraf two elected governments also failed to make NAB a really effective institution. By now there is a consensus that NAB has been saving the mighty and failed to grab those who made huge ill-gotten wealth.
When a four-day seminar on “addressing domestic and transnational corruption: meeting international standards” started in Islamabad on February 14, 2005, organised by NAB in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Imran Khan, Chairman of Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), said: “The government has put an end to the issue of corruption by appointing corrupt people on higher posts”. The same position prevails even after ten years-elected governments enjoying mandate of people in the wake of general elections of 2007 and 2013 showed little or no interest in establishing an independent accountability institution.
As predicted by us along with many others, the name and shame game in Pakistan of tax evaders and looters of public money through the Panama Papers and own publications of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR)-Tax Directory 2013, 2014 & 2015-has failed to muster public attention or that of the agencies for taking a suitable action. The apathy and indifference of masses and inaction on the part of courts and concerned agencies in the wake of the Panama Papers once again prove that there is no hope for bringing the culprits to justice.
Unfortunately, the government that has the main responsibility to tackle the twin menace of tax evasion and black money is shamelessly indifferent-it rather wants to cover-up the entire affair through delay or yet another amnesty.
Key members in all political parties, including their top men, singlehandedly running the show, have poor tax records but there is no will to go for a purge from within their party ranks. The non-democratic and authoritarian models within political parties are the main hurdles. This is the real dilemma of botched democracy in Pakistan that nobody wants to discuss seriously. The political game is that of mudslinging and not a desire for across the board accountability.
While there is complete denial and indifference in Pakistan about tax evasion and illegal flight of capital, elsewhere in the world people and governments are proactive against the culprits since the unveiling of the Panama Papers. Actions have been taken against politicians, officials, drug barons, criminals and businessmen who stashed illicit/untaxed/unreported wealth abroad. In Pakistan, the sordid story of corruption, loot and plunder continues. Existence of assets of billions in foreign jurisdictions of politicians and others testifies to the failure of the existing system.
This is not new for Pakistan. When Musharraf came to power two of his federal ministers, Faisal Saleh Hayat and Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, were under investigation and references were pending against them. Even after Musharraf, many public office holders had history of being once under NAB’s custody. With Zardari in power, the whole process of accountability got sidelined. Now Nawaz is following in the footsteps of Zardari.
While the saga of the Panama Papers is haunting Mian Nawaz Sharif during his third tenure as Prime Minister, he decided to bring a brilliant (loyal) Law Secretary who told the Public Accounts Committee on September 20, 2016 that it had no authority to investigate the matter of corruption! Not only the worthy Law Secretary but the heads of FBR, NAB and FIA expressed helplessness in probing Panama Papers.
The heads of NAB and FIA said they even did not get any complaint or material to proceed. This proved how every government of the day in Pakistan “deals with the issue of corruption”.
NAB under the civilian and military rule has been used as a draconian arm to “fix the adversaries” rather than apprehending and punishing the corrupt. NAB handled numerous cases where accused were tortured, abused, and humiliated to extract information from them or to get their confessional statements.
It openly committed violations of human rights and denial of access to accused persons seeking help from judiciary. The NAB Chairman enjoys the sole authority to decide in cases of bail, withdrawal of cases or continuing with legal process. The system and procedure of plea bargain is highly questionable and many cases were reported where the plea bargain was reached through torturous means or money was taken under hand.
Despite a draconian law and having unchallengeable authority vested in NAB, it is an undeniable fact that corruption has increased in our society with every passing year. Every government claims that it is committed to uprooting the menace of corruption. This is nothing but an eyewash. Unfortunately, Pakistan has become a place where rampant and institutionalised corruption is a way of life. In tandem with this silent conspiracy is the fact that the laws against the racketeers are usually not enforced and if they are, the penalties are laughable (the NAB’s handling of Mansoorul Haq is a classic example).
The darkest side of the picture is that the persons who are required to check this distortion, the politicians and bureaucrats, are thriving on dirty money-their financial lifeline. Those who spend huge amounts of money in general elections cannot afford to counter this menace.
Also, unrealistic tax laws have encouraged a burgeoning uncontrollable underground economy which is now responsible for institutionalising racketeering. If the system is not to sink into greater and greater chaos, a corrective action must be taken. The starting point is the clear recognition of the role of the State. It should devote its energies to enforcing the laws which protect the public from cheats and racketeers rather than reinforcing the system which encourages them.
This requires a bold and clean leadership which restrains the ballooning state and proclaims this unpalatable truth, and sets standards for the rest of the citizenry. Unless such a leadership emerges no positive results can be achieved.
(The writers, lawyers and partners in Huzaima, Ikram & Ijaz, are Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).)
Source: Business Recorder