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April 20, 2016

Steps against corruption remained futile in Pakistan’s history

Top Story

April 20, 2016

LAHORE: Although Army Chief General Raheel Sharif's most recent statement that across-the-board accountability is imperative in order to weed out corruption from the society has been widely hailed by all and sundry, including the politicians good at throwing stones at each other despite living in glass houses themselves, all such drives in country’s eventful history have largely proved futile and have primarily been executed to target political adversaries.

Research shows that, on January 14, 1949 the then Premier Liaquat Ali Khan had promulgated the Public Representative Offices Disqualification Act (PRODA) to check graft and misuse of authority.

The Act was passed in 1949 but with effect from August 14, 1947 and politicians could be disqualified for as long as 10 years.

His political foes had slated PRODA saying it was aimed at protecting the corruption of the ruling Muslim League and target the whistle blowers in the opposite camps.

Proceedings under PRODA were also initiated against Punjab Chief Minister Nawab Iftikhar Hussain Mamdot and his lawyer and the future Pakistani Premier Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy.

In 1949, Nawab Mamdot government in Punjab was sent packing and administration of province was taken over by the then West Punjab Governor Sir Francis Mudie.

Critics argue that Governor General Khawaja Nazimuddin had shown Nawab Mamdot the door at the behest of Liaquat Ali Khan.

Liaquat Ali Khan had also initiated legal proceedings against the then Chief Minister of Sindh Pir Ilahi Bukhsh and got him disqualified for six years on charges of corruption, resulting in the appointment of Yusuf Haroon as the new constitutional head of Sindh province.

Similarly, East Pakistan's Chief Minister Abul Kasem Fazlul Huq (AK Fazlul Haq) was dismissed in May 1954 by Governor General Ghulam Muhammad.

In 1954, Liaquat Ali Khan's Public Representative Offices Disqualification Act was denounced as incompatible with democratic politics and was hence repealed, but not before it had claimed a few well-known victims.

In March 1959, General Ayub Khan replaced PRODA with a new law called the Public Offices Disqualification Order (PODO) and had later substituted it with the Elective Bodies Disqualification Order (EBDO).

Under this law, not fewer than 75 senior politicians were charged tainted with corruption charges.

These formidable politicians included the likes of Qayyum Khan and Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy.

They were disqualified from contesting elections till the end of 1966. However, they were never tried and convicted.

Public servants were also tried for misconduct by tribunals comprising of retired Supreme Court and high court judges. About 3,000 officials were dismissed and many others were demoted from their official positions.

Yahya Khan’s military regime had summarily dismissed 303 civil servants and government functionaries, but did not prosecute them.

In 1976, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had enacted the Holders of Representative Offices Act and the Parliament and Provincial Assemblies (Disqualification for Membership) Act, but no case was registered under these laws. However, during the Bhutto era, around 1,100 government officers were sacked without trial.

General Ziaul Haq came out repealing the earlier anti-corruption laws and issued two presidential orders, commonly known as PPO No 16 and 17 (1977).

Critics still argue that the Zia regime had basically institutionalised corruption as it introduced ideas such as development funds for MNAs and MPAs and wrote off the bank loans taken by the supporters and loyalists of the military ruler.

In 1990, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was ousted from power on corruption charges by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who had approved hiring of private legal advisers to file about 20 corruption cases against Bhutto and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, during 1990-92.

It is interesting to note that when Ghulam Ishaq Khan had dethroned Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from power in 1990, he had inducted Asif Zardari as a federal minister in the caretaker government of Balkh Sher Mazari.

After the 1993 elections, when Benazir Bhutto was sworn in as country's premier for the second time, she had vehemently accused the Sharifs of receiving kickbacks in the Lahore-Islamabad Motorway and Yellow Cab Scheme, besides alleging her arch political rival of extracting huge loans from nationalised banks to build the House of Ittefaq and also benefitting from a Rs18 billion Cooperative scam in Punjab.

A total of 150 cases of corruption and irregularities were instituted against Nawaz and his family members.

In November 1996, President Farooq Leghari had dismissed Benazir Bhutto’s second government on charges of corruption and other offenses. He promulgated the Ehtesab (accountability) Ordinance, under which the process of accountability was to start from the date in 1985 when General Ziaul Haq had lifted the Martial Law.

The late Leghari had established an Ehtesab Commission and a retired chief justice of the Lahore High Court, Ghulam Mujaddid Mirza, was requested to assume charge as the Chief Ehtesab Commissioner.

Following the 1997 general elections, Nawaz Sharif came into power for the second time and enacted the Ehtesab Act of 1997. Under this law, he curtailed the powers of Ehtesab Commissioner, Justice Mirza, and had appointed his friend, Saifur Rahman, to call the shots.

The Ehtesab Cell was later renamed as the Ehtesab Bureau in 1998. The Ehtesab Bureau had only targeted former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari, though a few leading businessmen of Karachi and senior journalists were also "fixed".

During Nawaz Sharif’s three-year rule (1997-99), the only major case adjudicated by the courts was the 1999 conviction of Benazir and Zardari on charges of money laundering.

The duo was sentenced to five years in prison and fined US $8.6 million. The PPP chairperson was abroad at the time of the decision and her counsel filed an appeal against the decision before the Supreme Court.

In October 1999, General Pervez Musharraf had assumed power and issued the "seemingly fearsome" National Accountability Bureau Ordinance by replacing the Ehtesab Act of 1997. NAB was given sweeping powers.

It could arrest anyone for 90 days without producing the arrested person in any court of law. The accused could not apply for bail even after 90 days.

Under its first chairman Lt. General Syed Amjad Hussain, NAB had handcuffed innumerable industrialists, who had allegedly established their business empires through corruption.

However, following Premier Shaukat Aziz’s intervention, General Musharraf’s NAB had let many people off the hook.

And then in October 2007, General Pervez Musharraf had promulgated his infamous National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), which had granted amnesty to politicians, political workers and bureaucrats who were accused of corruption, money laundering, murders and terrorism etc between January 1, 1986 and October 12, 1999, the time between two Martial Law stints in Pakistan.

The NRO was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on December 16, 2009, but not before it had benefitted 8,041 allegedly tainted people, including 34 politicians and three ambassadors.

Between 2008 and 2013, or the time when the Asif Zardari-led PPP had held sway in corridors of power, the already-politicised NAB was ordered to closed down the corruption inquiries against almost 60 leaders of the ruling coalition – mostly from the PPP.

The decision was taken at the Executive Board meeting of the NAB on January 29, 2011.

If a few people, including top bureaucrats or federal ministers, were arrested during the 2008-2013 PPP tenure, it was primarily due to the suo moto notices of the Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry-led Supreme Court.

And not different has been the situation since May 2013, when Nawaz Sharif had bagged the popular vote to rule the country for the third time. One hardly finds any conviction and will of the ruling PML-N to make the corrupt stand in the dock---political expediencies perhaps! 


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