Pakistan’s obsession with elusive accountability | Arab News

This article was published in Arab News on December 09, 2020 and is available at the following link

Accountability has been political Pakistan’s obsession from day one – literally.
Soon after coming into existence, Pakistan’s first Constituent Assembly passed the Public and Representative Offices (Disqualification) Act, 1949 (PRODA) with retrospective effect from 15th August 1947 – day one for the new country.
This Act provided for debarring from public life for up to 15 years, persons found guilty of misconduct in a public office.
Never satisfied with the severity and outreach of accountability laws,  PRODA was followed by a variety of Accountability Laws.
General Ayub Khan’s martial law regime promulgated Elective Bodies (Disqualification) Order (EBDO) in 1959 which disqualified or coerced into ‘voluntary retirement’ an entire generation of politicians with the stated purpose to “cleanse the body politic of the country of all sorts of corruption.”
Two accountability laws, Holders of Representative Offices (Prevention of Misconduct) Act and Parliament and Provincial Assemblies (Disqualification from Membership) Act were passed during Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government in 1976.
After the Bhutto government was deposed by General Ziaul Haq’s Martial law, two draconian Accountability Laws, Holders of Representative Offices (Punishment for Misconduct) Order and Parliament and Provincial Assemblies (Disqualification for Membership) Order were promulgated in 1977.
Over his decade-long military regime, General Zia-ul Haq had wiped out all elected legislatures and governments with the help of Martial Law Orders, and no need was felt for further Accountability Laws.
Parliament and Provincial Assemblies (Disqualification for Membership – Amendment) Act, 1991 was the first Accountability law passed in the post-Martial Law period.

Despite at least 11 accountability laws and three dedicated accountability institutions at the federal level, in addition to several provincial anti-corruption laws and departments over the past 73 years, does the accountability drive seem to have achieved anything? 

Ahmed Bilal Mehboob

The caretaker government led by Prime Minister Malik Meraj Khalid promulgated Ehtesab (Urdu for ‘accountability’) Ordinance in 1996 under which a new position of Chief Ehtesab Commissioner was created and a former Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, Justice Ghulam Mujaddid Mirza appointed in the position to drive the accountability process. The following elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had its own ideas of accountability and it passed an Ehtesab Act in 1997 and created an Ehtesab Bureau.
When General Pervez Musharraf’s military coup toppled Nawaz Sharif’s government in 1999, a new National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) was enacted and yet another institution called National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was created.
Successive governments led alternatively by PPP and PMLN since then, have tried to replace NAO with a new law and NAB with a National Accountability Commission but these governments could never muster the political will or sufficient parliamentary support– or both– to pass a new law.
NAO, therefore, continues to prevail and NAB has become a much-dreaded accountability institution fiercely criticized not only by the opposition politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen, but also by the superior courts of the country.
Despite at least 11 accountability laws and three dedicated accountability institutions at the federal level, in addition to several provincial anti-corruption laws and departments over the past 73 years, does the accountability drive seem to have achieved anything?
Former Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, while speaking at the inauguration of the new judicial year 2019-20, raised serious doubts about the efficacy of the entire accountability process and the NAB. He expressed the fear there was a growing perception that a ‘lopsided process of accountability’ was a part of political engineering and needed urgent remedial measures to save it from losing credibility.
In March this year, a two-member Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Maqbool Baqar gave a landmark judgment in Khawaja Saad Rafiq’s bail application. 
The judgment recorded a detailed history of accountability laws in Pakistan and observed: “…rather than doing any good to the country or our body politic and cleansing the fountainheads of governance, these laws and the manner in which they were enforced, caused further degeneration and created chaos, since the same were framed and applied with an oblique motive of arm twisting and pressurizing political opponents into submission, subjugation and compliance, or remove them from the electoral scene at least temporarily.”
A scathing indictment indeed.
Early this year, the current Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, also lashed out at the performance of NAB observing that it was no longer fulfilling its purpose and being used for exploitation.
Only a few days ago, the Deputy Chairman of the Senate of Pakistan also addressed a press conference criticizing the accountability process and NAB.
Apparently, it is no longer possible to avoid the uneasy conclusion that urgent steps are needed to reform the accountability process in the country.    

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