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Ehtesab [Accountability] Bureau

The Government has sometimes used the "accountability" process--by which the present Government hopes to expose previous wrongdoing, recoup ill-gotten gains, and restore public confidence in government institutions--for political purposes by arresting a number of prominent politicians and bureaucrats connected with the main opposition party. Few of those arrested and questioned have been put on trial.

The Accountability Commission established by the caretaker government and headed by a retired judge has been overshadowed by an "accountability cell" headed by a close associate of the Prime Minister. This cell has been accused of conducting politically-motivated investigations of politicians, senior civil servants, and business figures, designed to extract evidence and in some cases, televised confessions of alleged wrongdoers. Some examples of televised confessions included Salman Farooqi, Secretary of Commerce under Benazir Bhutto; Ahmed Sadiq, Benazir Bhutto's principal secretary; and Zafar Iqbal, chairman of the Capital Development Authority.

Corruption is prevalent in both public and private sectors in Pakistan. Early in 1997, the government initiated an accountability process aimed at identifying corrupt individuals. An Accountability and Coordination Cell was established in the Prime Ministerns Secretariat, tasked with monitoring and coordinating the accountability process. The Federal Investigation Authority (FIA), conducts the investigations on receiving reports of corruption, either through the Accountability and Coordination Cell or directly from the public. After the investigations, the cases are referred to the Chief Ehtesab Commissioner for trial by the Ehtesab courts. However, the Chief Ehtesab Commissioner, Mr Mujaddad Ali Mirza, has complained that the Federal Investigation Authority and the Anti-Corruption Police have failed to cooperate with the Commission.

To date, the government has booked over 250 cases of corruption against senior civil servants and bureaucrats working in both the federal and provincial ministries and corporations like WAPDA, OGDC, Pakistan Steel, National Highways Authority, PIA, Railways, etc. The government has suspended 87 officials in its anti­corruption drive including 16 high officials of the Oil and Gas Development Corporation.

Those involved in the corruption charges are prominent politicians, bankers, bureaucrats, members of judiciary (judges and lawyers) and business magnates. Some of them have been dismissed from service, a few arrested, while investigations are under way against some very high officials. The corruption charges include : non-payment of huge loans taken from the nationalized commercial banks and financial institutions, massive financial irregularities, frauds committed in the purchase of project equipment, award of large project and service contracts in violation of the prescribed rules and regulations, selling of state lands on throw away prices, allotment of residential lands to favorites. According to some estimates, 30 percent to 40 percent of the original cost of many projects end up in the pockets of contractors and officials in the shape of kickbacks and commissions.

The point which is causing the most concern to common people is the purpose behind setting up a chain of Ehtesab Committees across the country. Even more disconcerting is the move to repeat the follies of the past by reinvesting politicians with a new clout that empower them to nominate their agents of doubtful integrity to a chain of divisional, district and sub-divisional Ehtesab Committees. The choice of the people to be targeted is arbitrary. The Ehtesab Cell starts a media trial of the accused even before their cases are sent to the courts, using the APP and radio and TV for their character assassination while they are yet to be proved guilty. As if this was not enough to discredit the process of accountability, the chief of the Accountability Cell is making deals with various business houses in a way that can only be termed as murky.

In order to made the whole process of accountability both even-handed and transparent, the Accountability Cell must not target only the people whom the government has reasons to dislike. Further, the government must fix criteria for making deals with the parties accused of owing money to the state or to the banks. All deals should be open to public scrutiny.

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Updated Tuesday, September 01, 1998 9:05:02 PM