Who will clean the Augean stables?

24 May

Mohammad Jamil

It is only since the advent of the modern industrialising state that the notion has taken hold that public officials and their political masters should act exclusively in the interests of the state.

In view of the fact that no laws exist in regard to the conflict of interest in Pakistan, there is nothing to stop rulers from running their businesses or using their position to promote their personal interest. Names of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s sons and politicians belonging to other parties in Panama Papers leak owning properties abroad and offshore companies is not shocking at all. In fact, there is nothing new in the leak. However, Sharifs’ contradictory statements regarding the time of purchase of those properties and arguments about selling steel mill in Saudi Arabia and investing in London real state have given their detractors the opportunity to grill them. Prime Minister Sharif addressed the nation immediately after the ‘leaks’ and tried to defend and justify the ownership of the property in Pakistan and abroad. However, analysts, politicians and commentators were not impressed or satisfied with his explanation.

Sharif in his address had announced the formation of a judicial commission headed by a retired judge. On Saturday, federal government reportedly finalised Terms of Reference (TORs) of inquiry commission for investigation into Panama leaks after government’s legal committee met with Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in the chair. Reportedly, according to the PML-N sources, Justice (retd.) Sarmad Jalal Usmani who is considered to be an expert in handling cases relating to financial matters has given conditional consent. He demanded services of a chartered accounts firm of international repute and some senior officials of police and FIA at the disposal of the commission to help probe in the matter. Previously, government had approached several retired judges, including two former chief justices of Pakistan, Nasirul Mulk and Tassadaq Hussain Jillani, but they refused to head the commission.

In fact, almost all the opposition parties rejected the proposed commission headed by a retired judge, and demanded a probe commission under the chief justice of Pakistan. While hearing a case involving the Sindh local government law on last Tuesday, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Anwar Zaheer Jamali said, “We have been asked to take suo motu to form a commission. Is it the responsibility of the judiciary to constitute a commission?” One newspaper published a lead story on Friday that the Supreme Court judges have refused to investigate into the Panama leaks. However, Supreme Court Registrar Arbab Muhammad Arif said that CJP Jamali asked him to refute the news, as government has not contacted the apex court with regard to formation of a commission.

Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar had offered the opposition to name any of the officials in the FIA to conduct an investigation. The question is when the top hierarchy of government is the accused party, how can the FIA go against the prime minister and his family members? Secondly, names of some PPP stalwarts and bigwigs of other parties are also mentioned in the Panama Papers; they would rather prefer to prolong the matter so that a powerful and independent commission is not formed. According to some PML-N insiders, if the pressure is mounted by the opposition, government has plan B, i.e. to form an inquiry commission under the CJP. In fact, much has to be done to stop the corrupt practices of the ruling elite, as corruption has brought the country to the present situation. The question is: who will clean the
Augean stables?

Pakistan should sign agreements with other countries to extradite those who amassed wealth using their position. In January 2016, Nigeria and the UAE signed six agreements in Abu Dhabi to enhance bilateral relations, which included an agreement for extradition, Transfer of Sentenced Persons, Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal Matters, and the recovery and repatriation of stolen wealth. At a reception after the signing of the agreements, President Buhari reiterated his commitment to fighting corruption and restoring Nigeria’s dignity in the comity of nations. It is worth mentioning that Nigeria is considered one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and the UAE as a safe haven for tax evaders. Yet the UAE has provided Nigeria the list of Nigerian politicians that have invested in Dubai.

Since the dawn of the 20th century, the concept of conflict of interest has existed, whereby elected representatives should not get involved in trade and industry. Conflict of interest has been defined as a situation that has the potential to undermine the impartiality of a person because of the possibility of a clash between the person’s self-interest and professional interest or public interest. It is only since the advent of the modern industrialising state that the notion has taken hold that public officials and their political masters should act exclusively in the interests of the state. Countries with large military ambitions, such as Germany of Bismarck and Hitler, needed an efficient and relatively incorrupt civil service if their ambitions were to be fulfiled. The Soviet Union also needed officials who were dedicated wholly to the social and economic transformation envisaged by Lenin.

After the Industrial Revolution, emergence of capitalism and, as a consequence, democracy, governments of western European countries became accountable to their publics.The people began insisting via the ballot box that politicians and officials should act for the public, as opposed to their own personal interest. In most countries, expectations as to the proper duties of politicians and officials have changed over time in the direction of greater transparency and clearer division between their public duties and private aims. But in countries that have yet to achieve any great measure of democratic control, expectations in this regard remain low, and the same applies to countries that have only recently democratised and have a history of corruption and abuse of power. It is now universally acknowledged that conflict of interest is at the root of abuse of power by politicians and public officials for private ends.

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