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Belling the cat

August 31, 2016


THE National Accountability Bureau, the corruption watchdog, has indulged in unethical practices of a different sort, it would seem. NAB officials harass retired civil servants in cases of corruption that may actually have little to do with them, as the real perpetrators are often too powerful and influential to be perturbed by such ongoing investigations.

One recent example is that of former prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, who has been under investigation for nearly 500 allegedly illegal appointments and corruption at the Gujranwala Electric Power Company. The officers serving at the time — even those who have retired by now — are being pressurised to give testimony against him by NAB investigators. Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, however, does not appear to care.

The question is: which civil servants have it in them to defy the chief executive’s orders and continue to serve? Do the names Muhammad Ali Nekokara or Mushtaq Rizvi ring a bell? They bore the brunt for not following orders blindly. Are there any examples where defiantly conscientious civil servants were rewarded for their honesty? The system is designed in such a manner that successive governments might reward certain officers for their loyalty, but definitely not for their honesty. Selective accountability by institutions like NAB does nothing more than provide an opportunity for more corruption by allowing access to blackmail.

Can deserving civil servants survive such a system?

Many of NAB’s senior positions are currently occupied by retired military officers inducted into the organisation during Gen Musharraf’s regime — the preferred way of military dictators to reward their constituency ie the army. These officers have also been promoted thanks to the manipulation of the rules and powerful ties, so much so that the requirements for the post of director general have been relaxed to justify the current incumbent — a former military officer. What this means is that there is less chance for those officers who have been recruited via competitive processes to be promoted. They are expected to work like mules without harbouring any personal ambitions of a promising career.

In a recent judgement, the Supreme Court emphasised the need for honest, well-trained investigative officers in NAB as it has been observed that the accused often try to bribe investigation officers and prosecutors with portions of embezzled money so that they can get off scot-free. In my humble opinion, what the apex court has wished for will remain a fantasy unless the anti-corruption body is purged of internal injustices and instances of favouritism.

Everything in this country can be reversed except for what the security establishment has done. Take an example. The Punjab highway patrol department is suffering from the paucity of funds and human resources. Out of the almost 500 vehicles used for patrolling, 400 have been driven more than 250,000 kilometres and yet there are no signs of replacing them. Why is such step-motherly treatment being reserved for a department that is in line with Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s love for specialised, specific task-oriented departments? The reason for this callousness is the fact that the said department was the brainchild of the PML-Q government, and political vendetta supersedes all other considerations.

In contrast, take another example. All of us know about the induction of military officers in the three most sought-after groups in the civil service: the Foreign Service, the Pakistan Administrative Service and the Police Service of Pakistan. Inductions into these ranks are usually based on recommendations from an influential bigwig. Another military dictator, Gen Ziaul Haq, legalised this practice — and no civilian government has since dared shut this backdoor entry into the Pakistani civil service.

There are certain things in life which one simply has to live with and cannot undo. One such thing, for all Pakistan’s citizens, is the dominance of the security apparatus in the political and administrative spheres in one form or another. The PML-N finally seems to have learnt its lesson, as (among other things) is evident from the recent appointment of the military-backed retired Lt Gen Zamir-ul-Hassan Shah in an apparent U-turn.

Those NAB officers who are planning to move court against NAB’s appointments of former military officers would save themselves a lot of litigation if they learn from the experiences of none other than the prime minister himself.

Lastly, if I dare ask, how would it feel if someone offered help during a natural disaster (such as a flood or an earthquake) but then decided to take over and oversee the running of operations themselves without much input from the concerned parties? I am sure that our security establishment is not going down that road and that this is mostly a case of a few individuals using the institution for trivial personal gains. I hope I am factually correct — and not just politically correct.

The writer is a former civil servant.

Published in Dawn, August 31st, 2016