Parliament Must Complete Tenure, Enact Stringent Anti-Corruption Laws

ISLAMABAD, July 20, 2017:  While Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) notes that accountability of the incumbent Prime Minister by the Supreme Court of Pakistan will strengthen public trust in democracy, it calls for across the board accountability to purge the state and politics from corruption.

FAFEN also urges the political parties’ leadership to assure the public that they will cleanse their ranks from corrupt elements. However, FAFEN strongly believes in the continuation of the democratic process and consolidation of democracy in Pakistan, calling upon the political parties to ensure that the Parliament completes its constitutionally mandated tenure.

In the aftermath of Panama Papers and the subsequent report which has accused the Prime Minister and his family of financial impropriety, the current situation warrants politically prudent and not politically expedient decisions in order to strengthen democracy and avert chances of any political crisis. Only a political dialogue based on citizens’ needs and aspirations among all political actors will enable answers to a situation that is unprecedented in Pakistan’s history after the 18th Constitutional Amendment, which has provided safeguards to the elected governments and assemblies.

Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) needs to weigh in ethical and moral considerations as it devises its strategy to deal with the situation while the country’s apex court deliberates upon the legal and constitutional merits of the allegations its leader is facing.

he present crisis also indicates the ineffectiveness of the government’s anti-corruption departments, investigation agencies and accountability bureaus that have largely failed to tackle corruption in the face of increasingly sophisticated ways being employed by the politicians, businessmen and civil, military and judicial officers to deprive the downtrodden of absolutely essential investments to development. With weak laws and even weaker enforcement, living beyond justifiable means, therefore, has become a norm amid a complex nexus of corruption that operates around most public institutions un-abetted and with impunity.

However, despite being the most pertinent and urgent issue for the political and public discourse, none of the governments have passed effective legislation to deter corruption and other allied crimes such as misuse of authority, gratifications of various sorts, offshore investments, money laundering, financial favours, policy and tax regime tempering, questionable public procurements, controversial privatization of state entities, etc., only exposing a lack of political will to address this bane.

The Panama crisis is yet another opportunity for the Parliament to stiffen the weakened legislative framework, which has failed to address the corruption issue. While opposition parties are using the leaks for political dividends, it is not sufficient. They must present a Charter of Demands outlining the legislative amendments to accountability laws in order to create more independent and strong institutions.

This Charter may include specific recommendations for legislative measures to insulate National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and provincial anti-corruption departments from the influence of the executive. The appointments of the heads of these institutions should be subject to transparent public hearings at the parliamentary committees, and their terms of service should be protected under the law. These agencies must be given mutually exclusive but complementing powers of investigation, prosecution and deterrence, which should not be subject to directions from the government and political institutions. However, effective accountability mechanisms on the powers of these agencies may only cater to their efficacy, otherwise the probability is that they themselves become a source of coercive extortions.

Moreover, the anti-corruption agencies must be empowered to net the corrupt using innovative means such as sting operations and traps, prosecution of persons living beyond justifiable means, surveillance of accounts of shady officials and politicians and their dependents and friends, etc. The legal amendments should protect actions that can empower the agencies to take proactive measures rather than waiting for complaints as corruption is collusive in nature. Such proactive measures can be taken on the basis of source information drawn from income and wealth tax returns, internal and external audit reports of public and private institutions, movement of money to and from the country, trackable expenses by individuals such as foreign travels, purchase and registration of vehicles and property, etc. The access to information that these institutions require in the interest of any investigation must not be subject to the government’s permission.

FAFEN urges political parties to be guided by broader interests of democratic and political stability in their strategies and urgently initiate a dialogue to protect the system that is vulnerable to any stresses of this proportion. Any decision must be taken through political consensus to strengthen people-centered political and democratic processes. Any political settlements without straightjacketed anti-corruption laws will not be acceptable to the civil society.

FAFEN as a leading network of the civil society resolves to stand for the strict enforcement of the rule of law in the country, and appeals to all the state institutions to act according to the Constitution of Pakistan.

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