FeaturedNationalVolume 14 Issue # 11

Accountability mantra losing appeal?

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government came to power on election promises of wide-ranging social and economic reforms. It has completed almost five months, but only accountability remains its prime focus while all other promises have vanished into thin air.

The government’s ownership of corruption cases against politicians is also maligning its image and has brought the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) into disrepute. PTI ministers only speak about corruption cases in press conferences and seminars and ignore other issues of the people. Accountability is a lengthy process and the curse is entrenched in society and politics. It will take decades of concerted efforts to dent the problem, which even exists in the more developed world. The government should reform NAB under the guidelines of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and leave the accountability process to it. People are fed up with the accountability mantra and demand resolution to their problems. The government should focus on practical measures to resolve their issues.

The common people have realized that the government has launched a vigorous campaign against corruption and many people have been arrested, but it has not brought about change in their lives. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) receives over 40,000 complaints every year. Ideally, a complaint is processed within two months. The next step is inquiry, which should be processed in four months. In the investigation section, cases are investigated for further processing and it also takes four months to complete investigations. Critics say only few dozen cases reach the prosecution stage every year and the conviction rate is only approximately 7pc. It was also admitted by Prime Minister Imran Khan recently, when he assailed the low rates of conviction in NAB cases and said it was 7pc in Pakistan while in Malaysia it was 90pc. He also hinted at changes in accountability laws to improve its performance. However, NAB claims its conviction rate is 70pc.

According to NAB, it has a limited budget and as a result, the hardship allowance and hiring facilities are very low in the organisation. It demanded Rs one billion under the Recovery and Reward Fund, but the government rejected the demand. According to NAB, the government had to pay the amount as its 2pc share in recoveries in bank default cases. According to statistics, NAB received 44,315 complaints last year and references involving Rs900 billion were still under trial in accountability courts. However, it failed to provide details of cases, which were investigated and prosecuted.

Analysts say the government will have to concentrate on public issues and their resolution, as it cannot use corruption as an excuse for inaction any more. The PTI announced revolutionary reforms to improve education, health, revenue generation, investment, employment, agriculture, the federation, the environment, tourism and justice, and to eradicate corruption. Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his inaugural speech, announced making Pakistan a welfare state. A few weeks after the coalition government completed its first 100 days, Prime Minister Imran Khan seems to be out of sync with the enormity of the challenges and problems facing the leadership, analysts say.

The PTI government promised 100m jobs in five years. Instead, thousands of people have lost their jobs in the private sector in the few months of its rule. In the last cabinet meeting, Imran Khan was informed that private businesses were making lay-offs to offset their declining profit margins. According to a report, he was also advised to announce an amnesty scheme to allow business people to realign themselves and their businesses in view of the adjustments being made by the government. He was warned that if the confidence of the business community was not restored, there would be huge unemployment in six months. A large number of people, associated with different professions, are losing jobs as even the government’s top-most priority area, the housing sector, has been badly hit during the PTI tenure. Real estate, housing, private societies’ developers, builders and construction businesses are in extremely bad shape and a large number of people have lost their jobs in recent months.

Experts say housing societies and builders have started retrenchment as their businesses were affected because of inconsistency in government policies, the political situation, alleged harassment by NAB and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), the bureaucracy’s reluctance to sign files and take even legitimate decisions, rupee devaluation and high costs of construction. The Pakistan Association of Automotive Parts and Accessories Manufacturers, in a newspaper advertisement, said that 1,200 jobs had been lost in the automotive industry in the last three months and warned if the situation continued, the industry could lose 50,000 more jobs. Besides other reasons, the association cited uncertain fiscal policies, increase in interest rates and cost of doing business, imposition of additional regulatory duty on raw material, restrictions on non-filers to buy new vehicles, causing damage to the industry. Thousands have also lost jobs in the media industry while there are a number of media house, which have not paid their employees for months.

Analysts say inflation is the highest in the last five years and growth is the lowest in nine years. It has badly affected the lowest income groups, which form the largest numerical bloc among the working class. Critics believe Imran Khan had no plan to revive the economy and fulfil his election promises while his finance minister has been groping in the dark since day one. He is accused of pursuing policies that have hurt the middle and lower income groups through cutting subsidies, slashing the development budget, squeezing the rupee, stoking inflation and reducing incomes.

The government has put the real issues of the common people on the backburner to pursue a crackdown on corruption. The opposition blames the government for victimization through the accountability drive. In this situation, the government should leave the accountability process to the departments concerned and concentrate on resolving the issues of the people or their confidence in democracy will shatter.