Dodging accountability

Published December 5, 2022

A WARNING carried in these pages in August appears to have gone completely unheeded. Months ago, as the government was bulldozing legislation after legislation through parliament to ‘reform’ the prevailing accountability laws, concern had been raised that the sweeping changes being made could completely paralyse ongoing efforts to hold powerful wrongdoers accountable. It fell on deaf ears. The government appears to have been concerned solely with saving its leaders’ skins as it proceeded to gut the National Accountability Bureau and defang its governing law, the National Accountability Ordinance, without putting a robust alternative system in place. A rather outrageous consequence of this self-serving ‘reform’ effort manifested itself on Thursday, as property magnate Malik Riaz was able to walk away ‘scot-free’ from a multibillion-rupee corruption reference related to Karachi’s Bahria Icon Tower.

Neither Mr Riaz nor the many megaprojects he oversees are known for above-board operations. The Icon Tower skyscraper partly occupies an amenity plot that would hardly have been meant for housing the rich; yet, somehow, it ended up in Bahria Town’s hands. When a three-year-old reference regarding the legality of this deal was brought before an accountability court judge on Thursday, he was forced to close it because he no longer has jurisdiction over the matter. The suspects nominated in the reference had filed applications seeking this outcome, citing recent amendments made by the PDM government to the National Accountability Ordinance to make their case. The reference is now once again with NAB, which is supposed to transmit it onward to a “competent forum”. One wonders if there is any hope that we may see further progress in this case. The impunity with which the powerful seem to be operating was evident when Mr Riaz failed to show up before NAB on the same day in connection with another suspicious multibillion-rupee land deal that he was allegedly involved in. “You are advised that failure to comply with this notice may entail penal consequences under NAO 1999,” the real estate tycoon had been warned. It had no effect. While NAB has earned its reputation of being a failed institution that serves little purpose other than to settle political scores, the need had been for the government to fix it, not cripple it completely. The PDM government is itself responsible for giving credence to those who feel it came into power to give ‘NROs’ to the corrupt.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2022

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