‘A’-class accountability?

September 17, 2019

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THERE is an element of both self-righteousness and audacity in the way the government has ignored all advice to proceed cautiously with its accountability drive and not appear to be on a vengeance spree. In fact, at a press conference in Islamabad over the weekend, there was yet more evidence of how the PTI setup may actually be relishing the allegations about targeted accountability. Farogh Naseem, the federal law minister, accompanied by Firdous Ashiq Awan, the prime minister’s special adviser on information, said a new rule would soon bar those involved in mega corruption from claiming ‘A’-class status in prison. The new rule is thought to be a result of the widespread anger in the country against those who are accused of gobbling up the millions that were supposed to be spent on the welfare of the people. However, the proposal that aims to demote certain ‘A’-class prisoners or detainees has clearly not been thought through. Surprisingly — and this has been pointed out by news reports — neither Mr Naseem nor Ms Awan seemed to have considered the fact that jails are a provincial subject. This means that the federal government’s attempt to bring in change by merely amending the National Accountability Ordinance is open to legal challenge.

The announcement, made on the directives of Prime Minister Imran Khan, has been termed ill-timed on many counts. The law minister’s reputation as someone who understood the law is at the moment under a cloud over his controversial remarks about a special constitutional status for Karachi. But the biggest issue, of course, relates to the opposition politicians who are or are likely to be thrown in a prison cell in the near future, given the thrust of the current accountability campaign. The debate about how the process of accountability must appear to be fair and non-discriminatory is futile once it is established that the government’s chosen manner is not rooted simply in over-exuberance. It seems to be deliberate and may remain the preferred course.

Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2019