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EDITORIAL: In a surprising development on Monday, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s point man for accountability, Mirza Shahzad Akbar, announced his resignation. Reports suggest he took that step for having failed to come up to his boss’s expectations.

First, as the head of the Assets Recovery Unit, and later as Special Assistant to the PM on Accountability he had played a significant role in the Panama Papers case that led to the conviction and ouster of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, but remained unsuccessful in taking the case to a proper conclusion.

At the time of his appointment as accountability adviser in 2020, he had claimed that billions had been stashed away in offshore companies, banks and properties, and that he would bring back the public money allegedly looted and laundered by major opposition figures.

As for the first part of his claim there is little reason to doubt it. In fact, in his 2014 written reply to a question raised in the National Assembly by a PTI legislator, the then Finance Minister, Ishaq Dar, had revealed that $ 200 billion of Pakistani money was hidden in Swiss banks alone, explaining that “one of the directors of Credit Suisse AG stated on record that $ 97 billion worth of Pakistani capital was deposited only in his bank.

Similarly, Micheline Calmy-Rey, a former Swiss foreign minister, is reported to have put the amount of Pakistani money hidden in Switzerland at $ 200 billion — a statement that was never contradicted.” But in promising to bring back the allegedly stolen public wealth, as a barrister and former deputy prosecutor for the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Mirza should have known better and informed the Prime Minister about the profound legal constraints involved.

It may be recalled that the Ziaul Haq regime had introduced a ‘no questions asked’ law and issued Foreign Exchange Bearer Certificates, allowing foreign currency remittances out of Pakistan to wherever and to whomsoever.

To further refine and strengthen the law the PML-N government brought in the Protection of Economic Reforms Act, 1992, which stipulates “all citizens of Pakistan resident in Pakistan or outside Pakistan and all other persons shall be entitled and free to bring, hold, sell, transfer and take out foreign exchange within or out of Pakistan in any form and shall not be required to make a foreign currency declaration at any stage nor shall anyone be questioned in regard to the same.”

The Prime Minister is rightly frustrated over the failure of his accountability drive, occasionally laying the blame at the judiciary’s door.

Needless to say, the courts have to adjudicate within the confines of relevant laws. Not the one to give up easily, the prime minister has already appointed a former director general of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) as Mirza’s replacement. It would be a challenging assignment for the new appointee.

As seen so far, it is one thing for the NAB and other agencies to make cases against prominent political personages and quite another to prove them in courts of law. It is, however, quite clear that the lack of accountability has corroded public respect for political leaders and others.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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