From Daily Times, this editorial is particularly important to read. Especially as we are reading and thinking about the UN report, it is instructive to remember that NAB was a product of Musharraf, and that the people who committed the most and the worst crimes from Musharraf’s era are walking free with no threat of facing justice. Inshallah that will change. But it cannot happen through ‘With Hunts’ and revenge trials. Injustice is never a cure for injustice Only an impartial, transparent and credible process will free us from the past.
The draft bill approved by the standing committee of the National Assembly to replace the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) with a National Accountability Commission (NAC) contains useful clauses, but several gaping holes have been left open, which must be filled before it could be hoped that the new mechanism will be a departure from the past. During the last two decades, the accountability process has almost invariably been used to victimise opponents. Politically motivated cases instituted by the infamous Ehtesab Bureau headed by Saif-ur-Rehman during Nawaz Sharif’s second term keep reverberating in the courts to this day. Even if there was substance and supporting proof in these cases, the taint of the Ehtesab Bureau being patently partisan has diminished their credibility. Even the much-touted National Accountability Bureau (NAB) constituted during the Musharraf regime became non-credible after it was discovered to be solely persecuting opponents of the regime. Therefore, a new mechanism was in order.
First, the good things. The draft proposes to bring civil bureaucrats, the judiciary and the armed forces into the purview of public accountability through this commission by defining “holder of public office”. These institutions, particularly the military, have far too long evaded answerability on the plea that they have perfectly satisfactory inbuilt mechanisms of accountability. However, it is a known fact that many a corrupt element and gravest violator of the constitution who colluded to support dictatorial rule has been let off of the hook and led a respectable life till the end. It is yet to be seen how the judiciary and the armed forces would react to the proposal. However, if they consider the law and parliament supreme, they should take this proposal in a positive spirit. Not only politicians, all public office holders should be made accountable for their wrong decisions or wrongdoings while in office. After all, the primary objective of accountability is to promote transparency in public decision-making, as well as serve as a deterrent to white-collar crime.
Coming to the bad things, a clause of the draft bill states that wrongs committed “in good faith” will be exempted from accountability and the discretion to decide on this lies with the commission. Given its ambiguity, if the bill is passed in its current form, this clause will be open to abuse. After all, every military man who makes a coup and all those who colluded with him did it in ‘good faith’. In the presence of this clause, the credibility of the proposed commission would be eroded. The second point that needs review is the five-year ban from public office after completion of sentence for accountability convicts. The five-year ban, instead of a life ban, eludes reason, because anyone who has been proved guilty of a white-collar crime should not be allowed to return to public office, having once betrayed the public trust. There can be no guarantee they would not repeat what they had been held accountable for in the first place, character being notoriously consistent. In a recent incident, fingers of blame have been pointed towards the PPP government, which has brazenly awarded a party ticket for a by-election to former MNA Jamshed Dasti, who had to resign from office for contesting election on a fake bachelor’s degree. The exemption this clause provides would open the door to bringing back people who have found to be cheaters and worse, and thus set a bad example.
It is not enough to just constitute a commission and prosecute criminals; it is also necessary to set principles through example. The accountability process to replace NAB should be purely according to the law, and address questions of misconduct and misdemeanours in an impartial, transparent and credible manner. Otherwise, it may end up the same way the previous accountability institutions did.