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Accountability debate

Accountability debate

POLITICIANS squabbling over accountability and trading accusations has become a familiar parliamentary game once again.

On Thursday, perhaps encouraged by the antics of their more senior colleagues in recent days, parliament’s ‘Young Turks’ decided to excoriate the National Accountability Bureau.

A junior PPP MNA, Imran Zafar Leghari, initiated a so-called debate in the National Assembly by tearing into NAB for its activities in Sindh.

While nothing specific was said or asked, Mr Leghari saw fit to brand NAB as little more than a powerful blackmailing organisation. That prompted a lament from the PTI’s controversial young MNA Murad Saeed along the lines of collusion between the PML-N and PPP — a variation of the long-standing PTI accusation that somehow the PML-N and PPP have rigged the political system to their own advantage.

Smarting from a reference to the allegedly rigged 2002 election, former prime minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali waded in only to go further back in history and remind the Assembly of the tit-for-tat accountability between the PPP and PML-N in the 1990s.

Perhaps Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid was more even-handed in his criticism and grudging praise of NAB, but the minister’s comments ultimately only underscored the desultoriness of the debate in parliament.

Nowhere was there any discussion of the meaningful aspects of accountability or how to create a more transparent, but powerful accountability body.

Unhappily, that appears to suit all parties at the moment. For the PPP, attacking the accountability bureau helps deflect attention from the endless stream of corruption allegations in Sindh.

For the PTI, whose anti-corruption mantra has not quite translated into robust legislative measures in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or meaningful suggestions in parliament, attacking the PML-N remains the priority and perhaps only goal.

For the PML-N, troubled by a reinvigorated NAB — sections of which appear more responsive to the demands of other institutions than of the political government — the recent focus has been on undermining the body’s credibility in the public arena.

Both in its present phase of activity and its history and structure, NAB is a deeply flawed organisation. The perception that accountability investigations are either being guided by hidden hands or that NAB is flexing its muscles in a populist manner has grown in recent months.

Reform and restructuring are needed — or perhaps an entirely new organisation needs to be sanctioned by parliament. Yet, parliament appears paralysed.

The accusations traded in parliament on Thursday perhaps reflect a dismal reality: having failed for years to take accountability reforms seriously, politicians have ceded space to non-democratic elements. It is still not too late to salvage the situation.

Across-the-board accountability, for all institutions, equally and transparently can be effected.

The political class will be strengthened by such a move as it will suggest willingness for corrupt elements to be purged from within its ranks. But is parliament willing and able to act in an enlightened manner?

Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2016

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