Accountability under Imran

Not even 20 dollars of the allegedly 200 billion stashed abroad have been brought back, writes Farhatullah Babar

Accountability under Imran
Since Independence in 1947, accountability in Pakistan has always been used only as an instrument for political re-engineering and witch-huntin - not for ending corruption. All experiments since Independence, starting with the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947, to the sinister Public and Representative Officers (Disqualification) Act, 1950 (PRODA) to the present day NABO were designed to achieve some political objectives of the rulers at the time.

There are many examples of accountability used as a political tool but a classic one is that of the dismissal of governments in 1990 and 1993.

Benazir Bhutto’s government was dismissed for corruption in 1990 by President Ishaq Khan. Her spouse Asif Zardari was then dubbed as Mr Ten Percent. In 1993, Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed Nawaz Sharif’s government for corruption. The same president then administered oath as minister to ‘Mr Ten Percent.’

Be that as it may, one still thought that Imran Khan’s government would prove different. After all, he had contested elections on the slogan of corruption and had been making the loudest noises against it. Irregularities pertaining to tax declarations by his sisters and the illegality surrounding the regularisation of his Bani Gala sprawling estate had come to surface in early days. But people seemed to condone it as small irregularities and not mega corruption involving huge kickbacks.
Genuine accountability is the product of a culture in which there is supremacy of the Constitution, respect for rule of law and equality of everyone before the law

Imran was relentless in chasing the ‘corrupt.’ During a visit to China, he said that he wished to follow the Chinese model and put “500 corrupt people in Pakistan in jail.” One of his ministers stated that the future of 220 million people would be secure if some 5,000 people were hanged.

In Davos, accusing Pakistan’s two mainstream opposition parties, Imran said that Pakistan’s economic development had been stymied by their corruption. He even went a step further. He claimed that the tension between the military and the PPP and PML-N governments in the past was the military’s aversion to corruption of these two parties.

Prior to forming government at the centre in 2018, Imran’s PTI had formed government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2013 and also set up an accountability commission in the province. After the 2018 election, he set up in the centre, in addition to the already existing NAB, an Asset Recovery Unit to bring back the “looted money stashed abroad” and appointed a special assistant on accountability Mr Shahzad Akbar.

Imran had declared that 200 billion dollars had been stashed abroad and vowed to bring it back within two months. One hundred billion dollars will be used to retire all foreign debt and the remainder 100 billion will be spent on the uplift of the poor, he had said.

Two years down, what is his score card on accountability?

The first thing that he did was to disband the accountability commission PTI had set up in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2013, after the commission showed some signs of independence from the provincial government.

Just when NAB appeared to go for the corrupt within the PTI government, incriminating videos of the chairman mysteriously surfaced. Thrown off balance, the NAB thereafter forgot to question ministers in corruption cases. The din and noise about the scandalous BRT bus project in Peshawar also died down.

The credibility of NAB further eroded when businessmen met the army chief and complained against it. After the meeting, NAB announced that it would no longer take up tax evasion and loan default cases against businessmen nor will it summon them for questioning, terming it was unlawful. What was lawful until a week before had suddenly become unlawful. NAB showed that it had no scruples.

And in the last two years not even 20 dollars of the allegedly 200 billion dollars stashed abroad have been brought back.

Last week, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi reiterated that Imran Khan be questioned by the sugar inquiry commission over permission to export sugar when there was no exportable surplus. Shahzad Akbar replied that he had discovered that the inquiry commission report was actually a charge sheet against Khaqan and announced to prosecute him for allowing sugar export in the past. Mockery of accountability has been taken to the extreme.

Serious questions were also raised by a Supreme Court judge about credibility of special assistant accountability.

On Friday last, Justice Qazi Faez Isa, facing a reference against him, moved an application alleging that while information about him and his family had been gathered, special assistant Mr Akbar did not reveal the same about himself and his family. Justice Isa asked why Shahzad Akbar did not disclose his properties and the name of his wife and children, their nationalities, whether they owned properties in Pakistan, and whether Akbar had disclosed his wife’s and children assets in his returns. Paradoxically, accountability’s major-domo remained the most unaccountable person in Pakistan, an enigma cloaked in secrecy, he said. Serious questions indeed.

Genuine accountability is the product of a culture in which there is supremacy of the Constitution, respect for rule of law and equality of everyone before the law. As long as there are sacred cows, as long as everyone is not equal before law and judges and generals remain outside the scope of accountability, there will be no genuine accountability. During Imran’s two years in office, not one step has been taken in this direction.

There has not even been a rational discourse on accountability during the last two years. Never before had accountability become such a dirty and decrepit word as during the two years of Imran Khan.

The writer is a former senator