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Accountability tussle

August 18, 2017

IN Pakistan, accountability is a loaded term, often translating into the hounding of political opponents. But while accountability bodies in the country are in dire need of reform to make them strong and truly independent, it makes little sense to do away with them altogether. Unfortunately, the PPP-led Sindh government passed a controversial new law recently that has eliminated the National Accountability Bureau’s jurisdiction over provincial bodies and officials. The PPP’s move has put it on a collision course with the opposition, the centre and now the courts. On Wednesday, while hearing petitions against the repeal of the National Accountability Ordinance, the Sindh High Court ordered NAB to continue its investigations in the province “till further orders”. Opposition parties in the Sindh Assembly, including the MQM-P, PML-F and PTI, as well as members of civil society, had gone to court against the province’s new accountability law. The opposition accuses the PPP of bulldozing the law through the provincial legislature to protect those within its ranks facing corruption allegations; the PPP disagrees, saying the National Accountability Ordinance 1999 Sindh Repeal Bill, 2017, is supposed to improve the accountability process in the province.

Indeed, over the decades, the accountability process across Pakistan has been flawed, with little transparency and few long-lasting results. While political parties should be aiming to plug the holes and reform the structure of accountability to truly root out corruption, this has not been the case. The PPP’s record of governance, even if ‘well-meaning’, has been poor, especially in Sindh, and a number of the party’s leading lights face charges of corruption. Of course, other mainstream parties have a track record that is not very different. Yet the effort to eliminate NAB’s jurisdiction in Sindh and replace it with a body subservient to the provincial government sends the wrong message. Also, the claims of some PPP leaders that the PTI-led government in KP has set up an accountability commission are a tad misleading; while such a commission has indeed been formed, NAB still has the power to investigate provincial bodies and individuals in KP. Instead of eliminating NAB from Sindh and strengthening assertions that it seeks to rescue its party men from the federal body’s clutches, the PPP should rethink its decision and work to reform the accountability structure in a meaningful fashion.

Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2017