Corruption, terrorism and accountability
By Imtiaz Gul
Friday Times, April 29, 2016
Panama Papers are a symptom of a greater malaise
The two Sharifs at the top appear to be at loggerheads over the relationship between corruption, terrorism and accountability.
The general, seemingly ill-advised, links corruption with terrorism and terrorist-financing to justify an across-the-board crackdown on corruption all over the country. The dismissal of six top ex-Frontier Corps officials is being highlighted to underscore that the military is ready to set its own house in order first.
The civilian Sharif, equally ill-advised, is insisting – as we hear in the media – that the creation of offshore companies is neither illegal nor against global ethical norms. He appeared on the state-run television channel to project his innocence and attack his critics. But regardless of when and how the Sharif family founded offshore companies, the onus for proving the legitimacy of the related transactions rests on them.
Unfortunately, both the Sharifs are getting it wrong. They are looking at corruption through a very narrow prism. Abuse authority is also, perhaps a much more lethal, form of corruption that hurts the rule of law in Pakistan. To the civilians, it is not corruption when the government steps in to save business tycoons. The findings of the Shoaib Suddle report were eye-opening, but no action was taken. Under Gen Sharif, the GHQ has set an unprecedented example of fierce accountability, but it will not go all the way back to May 12, 2007 to reopen the enquiry into the murder of nearly four dozen people in Karachi when General Musharraf had allegedly ordered the military and the intelligence to literally hand over the city to the MQM to prevent the then Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry from entering Karachi.
Accountability reforms must come from within the parliament
We hear that the General has offered proceeds from his plots to the welfare of martyred soldiers, but it would be even better if he could initiate a move to limit the allotment of prime state land to senior military men, or probe the use of the development funds earmarked for FATA. For a daring, professional and extremely well-meaning army chief driven by concerns for national survival and keen to set things right, such measures wouldn’t be a formidable challenge.
Meanwhile, in Islamabad, it is said that Rs 14 million of taxpayer money were spent on the publicity of the prime minister’s visit to a public school that was renovated for a cost of only Rs 8 million. How will the government justify the use of tens of millions of taxpayer rupees in 2014 for an advertising campaign against the PTI’s sit in in Islamabad? Even a simple audit might reveal shocking details.
That sitting governments’ abuse the Ministry of Information and its funds to protect and project the sitting prime minister or president is also a form of corruption – something that is alien to many democracies.
The Panama Papers are just one symptom of a deeper malaise. This is where the prime minister and General Sharif need to intervene if they mean good for the country. The army has begun clearing the deck. One would hope the charge against abuse of power, graft and misappropriations would continue to serve as a telling guide on accountability for the civilian government as well as the judiciary.
Prime Minister Sharif doesn’t really need to open the Pandora’s Box. All he needs to do is evolve a political consensus on abolishing the exorbitant perks and privileges available to the ruling elites.
Nobody should duck under the statutes or rules of business of the high offices while defending these privileges. They were written into the constitution and the official documents by the elite themselves. They should not take these for automatic bounty.
The reforms for accountability have to come from within the parliament.
Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies