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Accountability and the PPP

March 21, 2017

IT was dramatic and confusion-ridden in a way that harkened back to a previous era of tumultuous politics. The return of Sharjeel Memon, former Sindh information minister and close ally of Asif Zardari, from self-imposed exile and his brief detention by the National Accountability Bureau have sparked a war of words between the Sindh government and the federal accountability regime of the PML-N government at the centre. That the accountability process needs an overhaul is patently obvious and accepted by all sides, including the political class. NAB’s operations are neither transparent nor entirely plausible. Indeed, on many an occasion, including in the incident with Mr Memon, there is a sense that NAB is more interested in burnishing its public-relations credentials than strictly following the law. To be sure, the sudden return of Mr Memon smacks of backroom manoeuvring and deal-making by the PPP. Indeed, a link between the PPP’s eventual willingness to help revive military courts and the hectic efforts to rehabilitate the inner circle of former president Zardari cannot be ruled out.

Whatever the flaws with the NAB regime and the mysterious circumstances in which Mr Memon was detained and released, there is an undeniable lack of interest on the part of both the PPP and the PML-N to address the accountability challenge. Since the latest furore centres on, and has been accentuated by, the PPP, consider the party leadership’s role in fostering a culture of impunity. In the nine years since a return to democracy, there has not been a single PPP leader who has been disciplined by the party itself. This despite being the ruling party for five years, the largest opposition party in parliament for nearly four, and with an unbroken spell leading the government in Sindh. The record in Sindh is particularly damning. While Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah attacks the centre for its interference in Sindh, what steps has his government taken to tackle corruption and graft? It was Mr Shah, after all, who came to power mid-term vowing to clean up governance and address the dismal public perception of the party when it comes to corruption.

As for the PML-N, with the Sharif family caught up in an anti-corruption probe by no less than the Supreme Court itself, the party appears unwilling to address clean governance as anything other than a matter of politics. Consider the amount of time and energy the PML-N has expended in countering the PTI over the past year. Had even a fraction of that time and effort been channelled into legislative reforms and strengthening of administrative oversight and accountability, the government could have by now overhauled the system to the extent of the first big names being caught and punished. What the PML-N and PPP seem to forget is that democracy is about more than winning the elections.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2017