Accountability is always for the others. This is a sentiment that is true for personal, professional and political spheres. It is so easy and natural to put others on the dock that it is second nature to humans. Questioning others rather than looking inwards is the modus operandi of majority people. This is based on the belief that whatever good has happened is because of us and whatever bad is happening is because of them. This attitude is prevalent at workplaces too. The boss is quick to point fingers at his or her juniors. The juniors are quick to deflect it to their subordinates in the presence of the boss and blame the boss in front of the subordinates. This creates an unending passing the buck cycle that results in irresponsibility and performance deterioration.
Perhaps the best example of this attitude is reflected in politics. Every government comes with the agenda of cleaning the system. They blame the previous governments for not doing so. They make loud claims on doing across-the-board accountability. They authorize investigations. In the end very little happens. Enquiries are suppressed, opponents are threatened, and only a few from the opposing camps are apprehended. Thus, when people of Pakistan view accountability as an eyewash they have a rich history to draw upon. The present government won the elections on its slogan of anti-corruption and accountability. Half way through their term they are facing the same skepticism as the previous governments. Accountability was and is going to be a challenging undertaking as it has ultimate resistance by those who matter most in this process:
Those out of power- Power intoxicates, especially those whose dependence on it is habitual. In Pakistan, power has been shared between the military dictators and the two main democratic parties – PPP and PML-N. None of these three stakeholders wanted to lose power. They would try their best to make themselves staged on seats of power forever but were removed from power sooner or later. Those in power would expose the loot and corruption of those out of power. Some token arrests were made but due to deals and compromised backgrounds no genuine or sustainable accountability ever took place. That has been the norm. When the PTI government came to power accountability started with a bang and then became a whimper as most indicted people, both from the government and the opposition managed to be out and about on bails. Their main stance of accountability being subject to victimization had substance. That is why when the sugar enquiry report came and Jahangir Tareen was named in it, they were asking the government why he was not indicted. Funnily enough, now that he is indicted they are yelling themselves hoarse why he is being punished. The test of this government as any other government is to carry it through. Compromising to protect their own dark horses or to appease big industrial sponsors are the two challenges that they need to overcome.
Institutional infiltration- The Accountability institutions are themselves in need of accountability. Political interference and lack of merit have turned them into shell organizations that have no muscle or capacity to take on the power brokers. Cases start and then they linger so much that they lose their relevance. Court cases are in any case notorious for their injustice, delay and bias.
Beneficiary resistance- The biggest resistance to accountability is not only by the powerful but those who are partners in these benefits. These may be the bureaucrats, the MNAs, the MPAs and other friends and relatives who also got the share of the pie. They protect the interest of the top guy as they know that if he or she is held they will be apprehended too. Thus starts a web of collusion, payoffs, and blackmail by this network to defeat the accountability process.
Industry privilege losers- One of the most powerful stakeholders against accountability are some specific vested interest industrialists. They keep on complaining about paying highest taxes but also get the highest subsidies. In this game of subsidies billions are showered that are many times more than the taxes they pay. The present sugar scandal is a case in point. Imagine the total income tax is 10 billion paid by 88 sugar mills of the country and the subsidy they got was Rs 29 billion. Sugar millers purportedly created sugar shortage and price hike to force the government to take back the investigation.
Narrative facilitators- One of the most important members of this coalition are the narrative builders. They are spokespersons, analysts, anchors, bloggers, writers, tweeters, facebook post team, etc. They have dexterity in painting a certain investigation and accountability as fair. The recent example is the conflicting narrative on Jahangir Tareen. For months the narrative was built that the government has given an ‘NRO’ to Jahangir Tareen. Now that investigations are being held on his money trails, etc., they have started supporting the narrative that he is being victimized.
In a country where hardly 1% percent people pay tax, everybody is complaining about no rule of law and little public welfare. Traders and retailers go on strike when the tax net is expanded on them. Businessmen cry foul when subsidies are withdrawn. Media protests when government advertisement galore is cancelled. For most who matter in this country, what matters is the lip service of accountability. They say accountability should be across board but actually want that “across” means is that it should have an exclusion clause of “all except them and their sponsors”. Thomas Paine wrote: “A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.”
(The writer can be reached at [email protected])
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021