7 stars. C-Suite. Executive rooms. No, we are not talking about Royal Hyatt or Royal Crown hotels, we are talking about jail facilities for accused and convicts in Pakistan. The very word jail is meant to be a punishment, a lesson, a shame. This word jail for the powerful is simply a change of residence to a more all-expenses paid sabbatical from work. One of the worst crimes of the lawmakers has been is to protect the laws made hundreds of years ago.
These laws were made to create a class system for the rich and powerful and a separate one for the ordinary masses. This jail apartheid system has been a big reason why crime rates have increased exponentially. This system has promoted corruption, injustice and lawlessness. This system has played havoc with the institutional integrity of law enforcement agencies. This system has developed a complete distrust in police, FIA and NAB, etc. This system has made a mockery of accountability and law enforcement in Pakistan.
Take the latest. Agha Siraj Durrani, Speaker Sindh Assembly - Durrani, his wife, son and three daughters are charged in a billion rupee asset beyond income case. The speaker is accused of making assets worth more than Rs.1 billion by using illegal means. In the last raid on the house money and jewelry purportedly poured out of their safe vaults. The amount of gold stored in the house made it look more like a Jeweler’s warehouse than a residence. Where the money has come, they are not willing to give a money trail. On top of this the audacity of the speaker’s son to say that NAB cannot arrest his father and refused entry in the house. Finally, the case went to Supreme Court and he was arrested there. But look again look at audacity of the Sindh Government that declared his house as a sub jail and allowed him to live luxuriously. As Sindh Assembly is in session, he has called his own production orders and is presiding over it. This sad, exasperating and ridiculous state has been achieved due to:
Status quo laws— The laws governing prison rules are over a century old. The intent behind those laws was to create a system where the rulers (British) rule the subjects with impunity and with little fear of penalty. The Prisons Act of 1894, The Punjab Borstal Act, 1926, the Good Conduct Prisoners Probation Release Act, 1926 and the Pakistan Prison Rules 1978 reinforced this apartheid system in jails. A prisoner holding a graduate degree from a recognised university or institution and owner of 100 acres of barani or 50 acres of irrigated land verified by the district officer, revenue, would be eligible for grant of superior class facilities. A prisoner who owned business and personal assets, according to latest income tax returns, would also be entitled for better class. This is clearly a law made to promote money laundering of crimes and criminals.
Buying elections— Elections have the same principle. Only cash overloaded people can win. Elections are a combination of big money, big clout, brash rule bending/breaking. Thus, most people who can fulfill this criteria are those who make money by abusing their clout. This category includes land grabbers and cartels. Most land grabbers become billionaires by occupying other people’s property, reselling it at premium rates, using the money to buy tickets from parties, buying votes in elections and then come to power and occupy state land for making more billions. Even if they are caught, convicted, they either come out on bail or go to ‘5-star jails’ and run their operations from the comfort of the “better class” facilities. Another ploy is to use their existing ailments for shifting to hospitals’ VIP rooms. Khurshid Shah of PPPP was in a public sector heart hospital’s executive rooms for nearly all the time he was in jail.
Corruption shareholders— This neat shifting from one luxury to another under the guise of “better class” jail is possible due to the support of shareholders in the criminal booty. The collaborators in this crime (members of the “Sicilian mafia) include the government, government officials, institutional supporters in key position of judiciary, media, NAB, FIA, etc. The major challenge to the present government is how to break this Sicilian mafia. Its roots are so deep and widespread that like a hydra, you cut one head five more pop up. When crime becomes organized and institutionalized it takes an extraordinary effort to de root it. To put cracks in this united network some targeted actions are needed:
Jail reforms— The “better class” staid, stale law needs to be reviewed and revised immediately. The law that allows the rich the liberty to stay in VIP jails needs to be aligned to democratic best practices in the world. When jails become “real” places of discomfort and rigour, they will put a deterrent to this free for all jail vacations. The status of medical reports and the allocation and duration of hospital facilities needs to be restricted and equitable to what is available to ordinary prisoners. This will face stiff opposition from parliamentarians. But, without these changes, jails will remain more of change of residence than imprisonment.
Electoral affordability— When criminals come in parliaments they make laws to pardon and protect criminals. The main entry barrier to an ordinary person in the electoral process is the exorbitant cost of the campaign. The election rules only allow Rs 1.5 million expense but that is skirted by nearly everybody. To lower election cost and arrange for party funding for those who cannot afford are imperative changes in the electoral Act. We must replace the garbage in and garbage out principle by clean people in and clean and transparent lawmaking coming out of both the National Assembly and the Senate.
Visible and equitable accountability— For Accountability to become a true principle it has to be result oriented, without discrimination and transparent. The fact that the big wigs escape out of the country whenever convicted is a serious legal and political flaw. That those convicted, from the government or the opposition side, get bail easily is a serious slur on justice system. The fact that cases linger for generations due to adjournments is a lethal blow to any attempt to create a culture of ethics, moral values and respect for law. The judicial reforms restricting the time it takes to decide cases have to be passed even if a joint session is required. What is needed is to set an example of accountability across the board by taking the inquiries/commission reports and punish the culprits regardless of their affiliation, social class and influence.
This criminal immunity to the rich is the root of chronic socio economic crisis in the country. As Pluto said-“The imbalance between the rich and the poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics”.
(The writer can be reached at [email protected])
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021