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May 7, 2021

Imploding accountability

A strange breeze is blowing across the landscape, signalling the advent of a phase which may have no precedence in the pages of history.

More and more constituents of the beneficiary elite are securing unimpeachable relief from the process of accountability. While there are new faces joining the select bands, let us not forget that members of the bureaucracy were the original claimants of the unique status. They have since been not only the masters of their own fate, but also that of their serfs and slaves – the people of Pakistan.

A report on the bureaucracy, titled ‘Cash poor, perk rich’, recently published by PIDE, contends that “Pakistan’s administrative machinery, particularly its bureaucracy, is profoundly influenced by its colonial legacy”. The ruling British Raj had created a highly authoritative and exceedingly centralised bureaucratic institution to rule the empire. Since Independence, this institution has continued to hinder an effective functioning of the state. So profound has been its hold that as many as 29 commissions and/or committees formed to chalk out a roadmap for civil service reforms have not been able to even dent the monster we call bureaucracy. Not only has it remained completely immune to these efforts, but its functionaries have also discovered dastardly means, methods and mechanisms to stretch this colonial mindset to unsurpassed limits which were never achieved even in the times of the Raj. Instead of being servants of the state as per the Quaid’s advice, they sold their souls to the powerful and criminal political mafias to secure a foothold in the alleys of power and profit.

While public admonishment of a civil servant cannot be condoned, a comparison of sorts has been enacted recently regarding how partisan bureaucracy’s conduct can be. Some time ago, when Rana Sanaullah hurled threats at the CS Punjab and the commissioner of Lahore and warned them not to cross the ‘redlines’, the ensuing silence was deafening. But when a PTI leader upbraided a junior civil servant for dereliction of duty, it led to a crescendo of protest, with the CS lodging a formal complaint with the CM.

This palpable politicisation of the civil service is owed to the tangibles of compensation and incentive structure, unequal opportunities for career progression, pay and performance disconnect, cash grants, housing facilities, medical allowances and exorbitant salaries, perks and privileges which, according to the ‘World Bureaucracy Indicators’, are 53 percent higher than the private-sector wages in the country. It is feared that the recommendations contained in the PIDE report will be consigned to the bin by the functionaries of the bureaucracy to ensure their power and hubris remain unchecked.

The worst part of the rot is the mindset that is steeped in their perceived superiority over all and sundry. It is based on a flawed hypothesis that the bureaucracy cannot be done without and so it must have the exclusive privilege to devise for itself whatever it may deem appropriate. In the process, they have created an unmanageable hydra which refuses to be governed by rules and regulations applicable to the ordinary mortals.

While the bureaucracy may have secured relief from accountability by using the brute manipulative power at its command, the luxury is no longer confined to this institution alone. The judiciary has also effectively placed itself beyond the pale of the law. By providing unprecedented relief and scrapping the initiation of proceedings against Justice Isa and members of his family at any forum, the very concept of accountability has been rubbished.

The sad story of (absence of) accountability does not end here. We have also been witness to countless comical circuses enacted in the matter of holding politicians to account: Sharifs, Bhutto-Zardaris, and the attendant criminal clans. Unimpeachable evidence is available in every case, yet there is no conviction. Criminals are granted bails without even a shred of rationale and convicts are allowed to escape to foreign lands under the garb of a falsely-orchestrated medical condition. As the impoverished wait with their hands extended eternally in supplication, the courts are ordered open on holidays to grant undeserved relief to the rich and the powerful. This is no justice. It is a crass travesty of its inherent precepts.

And then NAB, whose responsibility it is to hold all criminals to account, has been reduced to a joke. With conviction ratio virtually zero, it is only interested in securing plea-bargains to let the accused walk away with a bulk of the alleged loot safe in their coffers. But the sermons come aplenty that no one will be spared.

The bureaucracy, the judiciary, the political elite and the accountability bureau together make for a sordid spectacle. There are criminals among their ranks defending other criminals from being held accountable because they are all together in this crime syndicate. They understand that their survival is interdependent. If one is convicted, all of them are doomed.

We are witnessing the process of accountability imploding at the hands of the mafias whose tentacles are spread far and wide with deep ingress into power echelons. The bureaucracy, judiciary, political elite and NAB are partners in this crime. The paramount tragedy is that if introspection is not undertaken urgently, this criminal clique would soon not be able to cope with exacting contemporary requirements of governance and inevitably wilt under its ugly obesity to render the state dysfunctional.

The way out, as recommended in the PIDE report, is to undertake drastic, comprehensive and sustainable reform in every state institution. Otherwise, there is no escaping the deluge.

The writer is the special assistant to the PM on information, a political and security strategist, and the founder of the Regional Peace Institute.

Twitter: @RaoofHasan