Pakistan’s public management and accountability system is perhaps on the verge of collapse. The system is breaking down with dysfunctional bureaucracy and institutions. Very few officers and institutions are willing to perform out of fear of unfair accountability and victimization. From the outside, it appears that the accountability system has been carefully designed to victimize political and institutional opponents.
Whosoever is in power uses the system to rough up opponents. The culture of media trials is a cherry on top. Majority of the public is marginalized and is disenfranchised, facing a criminal justice system that protects the elite.
It seems that the whole system requires a revamp. The ruling party brought itself to power on the slogan of justice. Unfortunately, dispensation of justice has not improved over the past three years, while political victimization continues.
Those who probably have committed financial and white-collar crimes received NROs in the past, while the rest avail amnesties every now and then. Few years later, these lead to a fresh lawsuits and interrogation under subsequent regimes, and the vicious cycle continues.
Some cases are unnecessarily dragged. When politics becomes personal, it leads to tit for tat. The public suffers as a result, as bureaucrats hesitate to make commercial decisions invariably leading to delays. The cost is either borne by the exchequer, and eventually, by consumers. A similar story is found in most decision-making processes.
Apart from these high-profile cases or trials, there are numerous professionals who have been victimized in white-collar crimes cases. There are a number of accountability institutions dealing with white-collar crimes with no clear boundary or jurisdiction. And the capacity of officials in these accountability institutions is weak to handle financial crimes.
Then, at times, the justice system also fails to demonstrate the capacity to deal with white-collar crimes on merit. The whole value chain has capacity and competency issues. This is akin to example of an old PTV drama “Choti si Duniya” where the lead character Janu German won the English-speaking competition from the judges who don’t know how to speak English. The Janu German is winning today in real life.
The fact is that officers in accountability institutions have the power to arrest and keep people in custody. Bail is a fundamental right not a privilege. How can one accused (not proven guilty) in white-collar crime not be granted bail? According to a seasoned lawyer, in “better” countries, non-bailable offences are extreme hardcore crimes where the accused is a threat to society if freed — such as terrorism, murder, kidnapping for ransom and narcotics. Usually, crimes which are heinous and inhumane are non-bailable.
How can someone be accused of financial crime kept in custody for long? That places the person at a disadvantage to defend the case. There are examples where the accused have remained in custody for 5-6 years, and essentially that person faces pre-trial conviction for years. There are instances where people die during trial.
There are doubts on the capability of investigation officers and the system to handle sophisticated financial (white-collar) crimes. There are doubts about their backgrounds to deal with such crimes. Do they have prosecutable material in the light of relevant laws for determining criminal liability? As per a legal expert, the case officers focus on filing cases but not in taking them to a logical end. It seems the policy is to file cases for the sake of cases.
When some accused is placed in custody unnecessarily and media trial is run on it, the reputation of that person – be a businessperson or a government official, is tarnished. It’s an irreparable loss for the person and his(her) family. If that person is wrongly prosecuted, and that person is a public servant, his or her promotion or placement is compromised. These come with social taboos. It is double victimization – one is to keep in custody and other is socioeconomic consequences after the person is released. A lawyer termed this phenomenon as “harassment”.
Fixing the judicial system is the most important structural reform required. And to carry out structural reforms in other sectors, decision makers need to take bold decisions. Without fear of undue accountability, officers even hesitate to take routine decisions. The economy and society may not be able to mend its path on the right direction without making criminal justice a just system.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021