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The Panama Verdict, A Deathblow to Corruption? (Editorial May 2017)

Letters to Editor JWT April 2017

“The secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account is a crime that has never been found out, because it was properly executed.” — Honoré de Balzac

Corruption has long been a festering sore on the body politic of Pakistan. Persistent low rankings on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index bear testimony to the fact that this cancer has spread to all state institutions. Be it the political elite or the bureaucracy, the police or other public service departments, none has been able to develop a corruption-free culture. Although tall claims to root out corrupt practices have been made by successive governments, yet our country is still a hotbed of problems caused by corruption and by going scot-free of the corrupt. Poverty, unemployment, energy crisis and soaring inflation, as well as social injustices, are but some manifestations of what corruption has done to our great nation.

The calls for nabbing the corrupt and eradicating corruption in all its forms, especially that by political leaders got an added impetus in April 2016 when the name of the incumbent Prime Minister, Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, and members of his family came under the spotlight after the Panama Papers – 11.5 million documents from the database of a Panama-based law firm, Mossack Fonseca – were leaked by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Since then, the national scene has been marred by wrangling, mudslinging and agitation on both sides of the political spectrum. Nonetheless, a big respite came in October 2016 when the Supreme Court accepted petitions to begin proceedings on revelations in Panama papers. The people of Pakistan pinned their hopes that the verdict would be a coup de grace for those involved in looting the national wealth.

Then, after a lengthy legal battle, finally came the D-day on April 20th when the apex court delivered a historic verdict whereby it ordered to constitute a joint investigation team (JIT) that would complete the investigation and submit its final report within a period of sixty days from the date of its constitution.

This verdict is historic in the sense that it shows the SC’s – and people’s, for that matter – trust in the state institutions and also provides them with a golden opportunity to win back the prestige they had lost due to some black sheep. It is a significant milestone in the judicial history of Pakistan as well because the SC, as a guardian of the Constitution, protects people’s fundamental rights which have been encroached upon by those wielding power and authority.

The verdict must also be seen as a stern warning to those who think themselves above the law and go on with their illicit practices. The severe chiding of the Chairman National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Mr Qamar Zaman Chaudhry, by the honourable judges should be an eye-opener for the state officials who either shirk their legal duties or serve the interests of their political bosses, as Justice Khosa wrote in the verdict: “… neutrality and impartiality of the incumbent Chairman, National Accountability Bureau Mr Qamar Zaman Chaudhry has been found by me to be compromised in the matters of respondent No. 1 [Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif] …”

One thing that has become crystal clear is that as long as state institutions remain subservient to the rulers, we cannot effectively stop corruption and plundering of national wealth.

State officials must show with their actions that they are the servants of the state, not of one political party or the other. They have to perform their duties strictly according to their mandate given to them by the law of the land. They must recognize that the key to country’s prosperity is in their hands as political parties come to power and leave after a certain period but they stay there. So, they have to do what they can for the betterment of the nation and the biggest responsibility on their shoulders is to eradicate corruption. Admittedly, the biggest impediment to anticorruption efforts is the meagre salaries paid to government officials and the wide gap between their salaries and the expenses they have to meet for living a normal life. This lacuna must be plugged and the government must ensure that they are paid sufficiently so that they stay away from indulging in corrupt practices.

We need to purge politics as well as bureaucracy of corruption. Besides, the vices like tax evasion, political loan write-offs must also be dealt with iron hands.

This requires systemic solutions. We must strengthen our systems and make them strong to thwart any abuse of power by public officials and those in power.

Our ultimate affliction is the acceptance of corruption as a way of life. This is the thinking that encourages the corrupt to flout the laws and loot the money. Commissions, kickbacks, underhand deals must stop as Pakistan cannot progress unless these foundations of corruption are destroyed.

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