Meaningful accountability

Updated December 29, 2018


A DRAMATICALLY revealed JIT report has led to a dramatic decision by the PTI government to place 172 individuals named in the so-called ‘fake accounts’ case on the Exit Control List and the government’s decision has been thoroughly denounced by the PPP.

Amidst all the drama, what appears to have been forgotten by all sides are the legal minutiae, due process and the democratic process.

Also read: Across-the-board accountability

The PTI government has responded to the unveiling of the Supreme Court-ordered JIT report as if the report is a conclusive finding of fact, a judicial verdict that has proved the guilt of senior PPP leaders and their alleged business partners.

Meanwhile, the PPP has responded as though the whole affair is purely politically motivated and that all the allegations have no merits whatsoever — which at this admittedly preliminary stage appears unlikely.

A judicial matter appears to have been quickly politicised by the PTI and the PPP, and so, for the sake of the judicial process and politics, the next steps in the judicial process ought to expedited, while keeping in mind the requirements of due process and fairness.

Among the many PPP complaints, perhaps the one with the greatest resonance is the federal government’s decision to include the name of Chief Minister of Sindh Murad Ali Shah in the ECL. In adding a serving chief minister to the ECL, is the federal government implying that it considers Mr Shah to be a flight risk?

To begin with, many details of the JIT report had been reported in sections of the media well before the report was revealed in the Supreme Court. Neither at that time, nor at the present, has the Sindh chief minister shown an unwillingness to cooperate with the law as he is required to.

Indeed, if Mr Shah were to flee abroad, it could trigger a constitutional crisis in Sindh and leave the PPP in a lurch — an improbable choice for a chief minister whose party chairman and co-chairman have also been included in the ECL.

Mr Shah is certainly not above the law, and he ought to be given no undue personal considerations. But the office of the chief minister is a constitutional office and it must be treated respectfully. Surely, the federal government ought to have considered the implications of its actions when moving against the chief executive of one of the federating units.

Perhaps both the PPP and PTI can see or hope to gain an advantage in the high-stakes brinkmanship they are engaging in at the moment. The politics of accusations and recriminations can suit political parties in a divided polity. But the allegations against the PPP leadership need to be resolved in the judicial arena.

From the investigation and trial phases, to the elemental aspects of the judicial process, for accountability to be meaningful and durable, it must be fair and transparent.

Published in Dawn, December 29th, 2018