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November 5, 2017

Accountability ambit


November 5, 2017

Over the years the one lesson we have learnt is of the need for an accountability mechanism that can tackle corruption at all levels and within all institutions. The need for this was pointed out very soon after the National Accountability Bureau was set up under Gen Pervez Musharraf. Given this history, it is unfortunate that parliament has once again shied away from efforts to put in place an accountability law – the National Accountability Commission (NAC) Bill – which can encompass institutions other than parliament, politicians and the bureaucracy. The rationale for this decision is that institutions like the judiciary and the military have their own internal mechanisms for holding their members accountable, and that the NAC may end up being used as a tool to hound judges and generals. The concern, while genuinely held, is misplaced. The NAC Bill 2017 explicitly makes the NAC an independent body that is designed to resist pressure from the government. As things stand, though, not only will the mandate of the NAC be restricted, there is still no guarantee that it will even come into being. The PTI is still opposed to the bill, as it has been to all accountability measures that do not involve the Sharif family and the PML-N. It supports keeping the NAB ordinance and continuing to rely on NAB to police corruption. This is ironic given that the PTI has been one of the biggest critics of NAB.

It is unfortunate also that there has not been open debate on the floor of the house regarding the legislation. Instead, a consensus decision was reached between the two major parties who it appears did not wish to create any further waves at the present time. The fact is that opposition to the NAC itself or the attempt to reduce its ambit can only lead to strangling any attempt to ensure that accountability covers all officials, no matter who they may be. To be effective, the fight against corruption cannot be selective – as it too often has in the past. Unfortunately, in its current iteration the NAC is likely to end up being more of the same. The problem of corruption in our country does not involve any single individual or any single body. For accountability to succeed, it would be necessary to design means to eradicate it from any and all places it flourishes in and creates massive weaknesses within the country.

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