The government officially declared the asset details of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special assistants and advisers.
The move must be appreciated, for it is for the first time that the unelected aides of a prime minister were asked to make their assets public or they volunteered to do so.
Elected representatives, by law, are bound to declare their as well as their family assets public at the filing of their nomination to contest elections. But there is no such precedent for the unelected aides to declare their assets and Prime Minister Imran Khan has, undoubtedly, set a good example for his successors to follow.
There however, is a need to critically look into what has been declared and what needs to be done to make the public office holders and government functionaries more accountable.
These declarations have set off a heated debate on the social media, raising questions about the sources of these assets, whether these assets are justified through genuine means or whether there was any understatement.
We have a national psyche that generally we consider every other person as dishonest without verifying facts. But it is also a fact that corruption has permeated in almost every section of the society.
Instead of wasting our energies into useless debates, we need to generate a healthy debate as to how can we check corruption and promote tax culture. For this, we must study the measures taken by the developed countries as well as those developing countries which are making progress in this regard.
According to economic analysts, around 35,000 billion rupees of the black economy is circulating in Pakistan.
“It is a continuous process and no serious effort has been made to check its uncontrolled spread,” renowned economist Dr Shahid Hasan Siddiqui said.
Before coming into power, Imran Khan had been criticising the previous governments for their failure to check corruption and unbridled growth of black economy.
He considered financial amnesties as one of the major reasons to legitimise corruption in the country.
But, it looks strange that the PTI government itself has given at least three amenities in its two-year rule so far.
In total, about a dozen amnesties have been given by the successive governments.
According to Dr Siddiqui, the government needs to plug all sources of black money before announcing any concessions. “Such amnesties are useless unless creation of more black money is stopped,” he added.
“Pakistan is the only country in the world where black money could be whitened without contributing a single penny to the national exchequer.”
Four aides of the prime minister have dual nationality. Though there is no legal bar on them not to act as advisor or special assistant of prime minister but Imran Khan during his opposition days had raised the moral bar on such aides to hold cabinet berths.
Though legally they could not be held accountable for the assets they made overseas during their stay abroad, the aides who have only Pakistani nationality should have morally, even if not legally, justified whether their life style was in consonance with their income.
Politicians have a genuine point that they have been subjected to scathing criticism by all and sundry over their means of wealth and their lifestyles but, unlike them, unelected government functionaries have never been subjected to the ruthless accountability.
They must have taken a sigh of relief over the Supreme Court landmark verdict on the Ashiana Housing scheme against Khawaja Saad Rafique and Khawaja Salman Rafique of the PML-N.
The court severely criticised the role of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and said that since its inception it has been used for political engineering and victimisation of political opposition than for its actual task of controlling corruption.
One could recall how this anti-graft watchdog was used soon after its formation by the former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf’s regime to force politicians to switch their loyalties to help him to bring his loyalists to power.
Current opposition has also been vocal that the NAB was again being used against its key members, while members of the ruling party were spared from any accountability.
In order to put a transparent accountability process in place in the country, the government needs to bring in non-discriminatory, non-partisan legislation to ensure across the board accountability.
Such law should not focus only on the political elite, but it should hold accountable the entire ruling elite. There should no sacred cows outside the ambit of this law.
Only a credible and genuine accountability process can restore trust in the people.
Both government and opposition parties have been calling for the review of the NAB law, but no genuine effort has been made in this regard. The debate between the government and opposition always degenerates into a blame game.
It is the basic responsibility of the government to reach other opposition parties in the parliament so both make serious efforts to bring up such a law.
The proposed NAB law as well as other relevant laws should also suggest drastic reforms in the taxation system, because the ruling elite and affluent people exploited lacunas in the existing laws to their benefit.
Accountability in fact has been reduced to a farce in Pakistan over the past three decades or so.
The masses in Pakistan are fed up with corruption and it is one of the major reasons that has not only been just hindering economic progress but has also been causing political polarisation.
Time has come for Pakistan’s political leadership to close their ranks and restore their credibility in the eyes of their voters by submitting themselves to accountability and also making other strata of the ruling elite accountable through a credible accountability process.
PPP and PML-N failed to remove lacunas in the accountability process during their rule, but the PTI should not waste this opportunity at a time when there is across the board demand from the entire political leadership for enforcement of a genuine accountability process in the country.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad