THE Joint Investigation Team model of accountability appears to have suffered a fresh setback and a thorough reassessment of the model is necessary.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court intervened to order the removal of the names of Chief Minister Sindh Murad Shah and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari from the JIT report on the so-called fake bank accounts case. The Supreme Court has also directed the federal government to remove the names of the two PPP leaders from the Exit Control List.
The apex court’s intervention may help cool the frenzy of speculation that erupted after the court-ordered JIT report was made public. Substantially adding to the confusion was the PTI’s apparent willingness to force immediate political change in Sindh. Perhaps all sides ought to consider their role in further muddying the accountability waters in the country.
To begin with, serious as the allegations in the JIT report are, a JIT report is not a conclusive finding of fact by a court of law.
Indeed, the intervention of the superior judiciary using its suo motu powers effectively circumvents the regular investigation and judicial processes, and can create distortions that can be difficult to justify. In the present instance, it was the Supreme Court that ordered the creation of a JIT to probe the so-called fake accounts case and present its findings to the court.
If the JIT is assumed to have acted in good faith, then its findings ought to be assessed fairly and transparently. But in ordering that the names of certain individuals be deleted from the JIT report, the Supreme Court has exercised its discretionary power to effectively overrule the JIT report without there being a clear legal reason for doing so.
Certainly, the Supreme Court’s apparent desire to extend respect and dignity to constitutional office holders and leaders of major political parties is laudable under the circumstances, but if JIT findings can be summarily modified, overturned or erased, then what is the true value of the JIT report in the first place?
The accountability process in the country is undeniably flawed, but a better accountability process does not lie in ad hoc solutions such as JITs and arbitrary arrests. If accountability is to be fair and transparent, and convictions are to be sustained on appeal, the regular processes and institutions of investigation, prosecution and adjudication ought to be strengthened.
The PTI government is clearly committed to ramping up accountability; can the federal government not empower the institutions that have the expertise and lawful authority to investigate and prosecute corruption?
The JIT fiasco could allow the PPP leadership to avoid answering in the court of public opinion the very serious corruption allegations that have been made public. Circumventing normal systems does not necessarily lead to extraordinary results — more often than not it leads to no results whatsoever.
Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2019