Real accountability

Updated December 23, 2018

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AS the accountability net appears to tighten around the leaderships of the PML-N and the PPP, the parties are signalling that they may come together to put pressure on the PTI-led federal and provincial governments.

While a combined opposition may still be some way off, it remains the prerogative of political parties to come together on a common platform. Yet, what is it that the PPP and PML-N are agitating for? It is fairly obvious that the accountability process being carried out in the country at the moment is highly selective. While the PPP and PML-N were ruling parties over the past decade and true accountability will inevitably focus on the conduct of those who have held high office, no reasonable political observer would suggest that the ongoing accountability drive is not politically tainted.

Prime Minister Imran Khan and the federal government have not done themselves or the cause of accountability any favours by forcefully backing the current accountability drive — the PTI’s fervent support for NAB, for example, has created an unfortunate impression of collusion between the government and the ostensibly independent accountability body.

Nevertheless, the PPP and PML-N approach until now has been mostly reactive and will do little to move the democratic project forward. The whiff of partisan accountability may be strong at the moment, but it also remains true that neither the PPP nor the PML-N did much to create a fair, independent and strong accountability mechanism during their last stints in office. In 10 years of elected governments, not one recognisable figure from the ranks of the PML-N or PPP were identified and punished for corruption in office by the parties themselves.

If some of the allegations of corruption are wildly exaggerated, it is also improbable in the extreme that no minister or high party official belonging to the two parties has indulged in illegal conduct or financial corruption. Ultimately, just as the constitutional disqualification clauses introduced by dictator Ziaul Haq have been weaponised against the very political parties that failed to modify or remove these during the 18th Amendment process, the failure of the previous two governments to overhaul the process of accountability has allowed a deeply flawed accountability system to be used in a targeted manner.

Perhaps the PPP and PML-N ought to consider tabling in parliament meaningful reforms of the accountability system. The PTI government is likely to try and move ahead with its legislative agenda soon, which will require cooperation from the combined opposition. Surely, if the PPP and PML-N present sensible reforms that further the cause of accountability rather than merely shield all politicians, the PTI government would have to consider them.

A parliament in which both the government and the opposition can come together and legislate on issues of pressing national importance would be a victory for democracy itself.

Published in Dawn, December 23rd, 2018