WEB DESK: Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif while addressing the Signal Regimental Centre Kohat on Tuesday stated that an across the board accountability is necessary for the solidarity, integrity and prosperity of Pakistan.
While such sentiments have been expressed several times in the past, particularly during the ongoing operation in Karachi that led to provincial power players first adopting a confrontational approach and more recently seeking rapprochement with the establishment, yet this was being widely regarded as the army’s first response to the ongoing political fallout of the Panama leaks implicating the Prime Minister’s three children.
What further strengthened this perception was General Sharif’s statement that the Pakistan army fully supports every meaningful effort in the direction of across the board accountability which would ensure a better future for our future generations and is ready to offer its services to root out corruption.
Two days later, General Raheel Sharif led by example and in an unprecedented move in the history of this country dismissed at least 11 army officers, including a three-star general from service, for corruption. That this move was not a knee-jerk reaction to convince his civilian detractors, including politicians, that his statement in Kohat was civilian-specific can best be ascertained by the fact that it was the outcome of an investigation by Adjutant General Zubair Mahmood Hayat on his orders.
The dismissed officers have been asked to return all earnings accumulated through corruption and their perks and privileges have been withdrawn. Thus the COAS has shown that there are no longer any sacred cows and has achieved a higher moral ground than unfortunately has been shown by the civilian government so far.
What is disturbing is that a few hours after the report of the dismissals by the army chief was aired the Election Commission of Pakistan chose to make available the current asset statements of members of the assembly (for sale for 1038 rupees), including the Prime Minister’s, and at the same time the Prime Minister was shown chairing a meeting of his cabinet in which he reportedly repeated his mantra: that he was innocent of all wrongdoing, he would be proven innocent like in the past, load-shedding would end by 2018 and it was the fear of his government’s development achievements by election year which have panicked the opposition and compelled it to attack his close family members. Such a staccato approach that once again did not provide answers to key questions emanating from the Panama leaks is unfortunately a reflection of the erosion of the Prime Minister’s moral capital.
No one can challenge the assertion of the COAS. Corruption in Pakistan is endemic, be it in the form of commission on development projects or a commission on foreign contracts/procurement or be it in the form of nepotism in senior appointments. Corruption in Pakistan is difficult to quantify yet a former National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Chief Admiral Fasih Bokhari (retd) gave a daily corruption figure of 6 to 7 billion rupees, which he acknowledged was a conservative estimate (and did not include land grabbing, extortion encroachments, loans/wilful defaults, over-staffing/ghost schools and hospitals) and compounded the annual amount to 4 to 5 trillion rupees. He added “the nexus between the legislature and executive which aggravated corruption in the ’80s and ’90s has now become monstrous.”
To put this amount in perspective, it is relevant to note that the current year’s budget allocates 4.08 trillion rupees for government expenditure (3.1 trillion rupees current and 923 billion rupees development and net lending) and projects total tax revenue at 3.4 trillion rupees.
However, the Corruption Perception Index compiled by Transparency International shows a marked improvement in Pakistan in recent years ranking 117 out of 134 countries in 2015, down from 126 in 2014 and 139 in 2012 when the PPP-led coalition government was in power. This is being cited by the PML-N as proof that corruption during Sharif’s third tenure has declined. It is yet to be determined what, if any, would be the impact of the Panama leaks on the perception index in Pakistan; however, the TI did note that Pakistan’s budget openness in 2015 was minimal with a score of 38.
The defence of the Prime Minister’s children by the cabinet and other supporters is reflective of the continuation of a two-fold strategy adopted in the 1990s by the status quo parties namely the PML-N and the PPP when ever confronted by a political challenge: seek political support from other political parties on the one hand and attack the credentials of all those raising the issue on the other.
It is indeed unfortunate that to date the Prime Minister appears to support this strategy and reportedly his loyalists have already contacted different political parties to garner support in the assembly while the Prime Minister has himself hinted at a probe of the funds collected by Imran Khan for the Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital. This approach fails to distinguish between his children who are personally benefiting from the offshore accounts while the funds collected by Imran Khan are being used for charity purposes. Asif Ali Zardari who could have played a deciding role in this issue as he did during Imran Khan’s 2014 long dharna did not reportedly meet with the Prime Minister in London, a decision that his supporters claim is reflective of his refusal to come to Nawaz Sharif’s assistance.
There is at present disagreement between the PML-N and the opposition parties as to who should lead the inquiry commission and in what clearly is not a lesson learned by the PML-N stalwarts the focus appears to be on setting up a commission that would have limited terms of reference and its recommendations never released thereby meeting the same fate as past commissions. It is here that opposition parties reckon the COAS can exert some influence to ensure that the commission is led by someone who is non-partisan, its results disseminated and its recommendations adhered to.
To conclude, there is a need for the government to take appropriate measures to deal with the crisis and perhaps the best way forward would be for the Prime Minister to submit his tax returns and wealth statements (and that of his wife and children) from the first time that he became Prime Minister (6th November 1990). If all is in order as claimed by the Prime Minister then there would be no need for an inquiry commission and the current furore in the country would be dismissed as a storm in a tea cup.
True that David Cameron followed this path with calls for his resignation becoming more strident but in the Prime Minister’s two sons’ case (though not of his daughter Maryam) they have been non-resident Pakistanis since they reached adulthood and hence the public perception of their business interests outside the country would be different. How, from where and when they acquired the seed capital is at present of great interest to the public.
Source: Business Recorder