Prime Minister Imran Khan has once again voiced his determination to end corruption in Pakistan. He said that the process of accountability would continue without discrimination. He also vowed to confiscate the properties accumulated by the previous rulers from the alleged looted wealth. Stressing that development in Pakistan would not be possible without eliminating corruption, he said that he would fulfil his promises of eliminating corruption from the country.
To quote Imran Khan, “I have been waiting for this moment for 22 years of my political struggle to bring to book those who have plundered public money”. The main election slogan of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) was across-the-board accountability and economic turnaround for the betterment of the have-nots, who have reeled under the crushing burden of poverty and deprivation for decades. The election promise made a powerful appeal to people who came out in large numbers to vote the PTI into power. It was thus natural for the PTI government to move quickly to deliver on its commitments.
Over the last 12 months of governance, the government has single-mindedly pursued the accountability process. As it is, the government has taken strong action against Benami accounts and properties in order to bring back the looted money from abroad. To this end, the relevant state institutions have been given complete authority to proceed with the accountability process without fear or favour.
The experience from around the world shows that ending corruption is essential to restore the confidence of international investors. It is no secret that many overseas Pakistani entrepreneurs are willing to invest in Pakistan, but have been hesitant because of the pervasive corruption in our system. One of the major deterrents to a foreign investor to invest in Pakistan is the high incidence of corruption at all levels of the government. The evil culture is a symptom of our patronage-based political system, which makes effective governance impossible.
The economy of a country has an umbilical link with the accountability process and its transparency and fairness. Accountability is directly proportional to the health of the economy. Good governance leads to a good economy, and bad governance retards economic growth. Over the last few years we have seen how Pakistan’s economy has been undermined by bad governance which is a heinous combination of corruption, incompetence, inefficiency, nepotism and cronyism.
Needless to say, to achieve its underlying objectives, the accountability process must be above board and equally applicable to all accused. The PTI government claims that its main motivation in prosecuting the corrupt is not based on personal vendetta, but to help improve the country’s economy, reduce income inequality and eradicate poverty. But the way the accountability process is proceeding, voices are increasingly being raised about its direction and targets.
A number of arrests targeting only the opposition politicians has created a strong impression in the country that it is lopsided. With the arrest of former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), there are now 12 politicians — the vast majority of them from opposition parties — in jail, with one convicted and the rest pending investigations. There are reports of the NAB hunting for other opposition politicians, and speculation is rife regarding the next PPP or PML-N leaders to be picked up by it.
There is no doubt that those who wield power and use taxpayers’ money must be answerable to the public. But observers of the national scene say that the frequency with which opposition parties are being targeted for alleged crimes ranging from so-called mega corruption and terrorism to drug possession, makes it look like an organised campaign to muzzle political opponents.
While no significant recoveries have been made so far from those jailed or under investigation, in the meanwhile, the economy has nosedived because of the ruthless and thoughtless tax drive launched by the government. Factories have closed down and businessmen and traders have held protest marches against the strong-arm tactics being used by the investigation agencies. Prices of articles of daily-use have skyrocketed, upsetting the household budget of an average family.
In view of the relentless economic decline, questions are being raised as to why the government is focusing all its energies on accountability, ignoring the serious hardships the general public is suffering from. It has been rightly argued that an anti-corruption drive should make life easier for the common man but, the opposite has happened in the current campaign of the government. From millionaires to the man on the street, everyone is complaining that life has become more expensive and difficult under the PTI government.
The ordinary people had pinned high hopes on the PTI, but these hopes have dashed. An accountability process which has brought no benefit to the people is of little use to them. It is time the PTI learned from its acts of omission and commission and reset its priorities to put greater focus on economic revival and welfare of the people.