The Nation: Rs 82 billion democratic scam

“It is about time to implement the Supreme Court verdict of December 16, 2009, on NRO, the very basis of

establishing the current government and the start of a new era of

corruption and lawlessness.”

– Javed Chaudhry, a reader’s comment on my article “The Rule of Two”

The fundamental moral edge of parliamentary democracy over all forms of political governance is that the parliamentary system is based on the precise ethical standards of personal and collective conduct of the political leadership that comes into power by virtue of a public mandate. When the said public mandate is violated in any shape or form by any of the elected representatives, in the legislative assemblies or in the executive branch, the democratic reaction is always of immediate and swift recourse to redress the citizens’ grievances and follow up to correct the flawed policies of the incumbent political regime. The accountability of political leadership is collective as well as of the individual member whenever a breach of public trust occurs.

Here is the illustration of the point: for example, if a cabinet member is accused of an unlawful act or a political action or personal conduct that is detrimental to national interests, violates public trust, or breaches the constitutional pledge, the Prime Minister immediately asks the accused Minister to resign. This has been the time-honoured convention of parliamentary democracy.

Being cognisant of one’s personal and collective responsibility to the voters, cabinet members and parliamentarians have been known to resign from their posts and parliamentary membership when they are accused of unlawful acts and personal misconduct. That is what makes the parliamentary form of government a truly public representative system - it is the moral or ethical imperative that makes the system work to the optimal benefit of the citizens. There are no two opinions on it.

In addition, the main opposition party, called the “shadow government” (or the coalition of various political parties) have been known to move a vote of “no confidence” against a ruling regime when public affairs are mismanaged. Political history is full of instances when ruling parties were voted out of power by a vote of “no confidence” initiated by the opposition in the legislative assemblies. It is the uniquely gracious political elegance of the parliamentary system that an elected government is not entitled to a full term in office if and when it fails in its public mandate, accused of incompetence, mismanagement, corruption, inefficiency and personal and collective loss or violation of public trust.

Sadly, in present-day so-called democratic Pakistan, parliamentary politics runs counter-clockwise: every democratic norm, principle, convention and tradition is violated blatantly and with impunity. It is as if wrong is right and right is wrong. Take, for example, the Rs 82 billion corruption scam against the former Chairman of Pakistan’s Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA). The said individual is a close relative of the ruling party’s (PPP) Secretary General. The accused is known to have escaped (reportedly to the UAE and now reported to have been arrested in Dubai) after he was legally charged with criminal conduct. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has already issued an indictment against Pakistan’s Prime Minister, the Federal Interior Minister and the PPP Secretary General for helping the accused flee the country.

The vital and the central issue of democratic governance in this multi-billion rupee corruption case is that all the basic and fundamental norms of parliamentary democracy are being violated indiscriminately and without consequences. The questions are: why hasn’t the PPP Secretary General resigned so far in view of the Supreme Court’s ruling and the circumstantial evidence that clearly links the accused to the Secretary General? Did the ruling party’s Secretary General help the accused escape? Was the Prime Minister involved or knowledgeable of the OGRA Chairman’s escape? Did the Interior Minister help in any form the former Chairman run away from the country?

But these are all legal issues that will be sorted out in due course of time through criminal investigations, if there are any. But what begs attention here is the lack of parliamentary democratic moral discourse: the PPP Secretary General, having been accused and known for his close personal relationship with the former OGRA top official, has obviously lost personal credibility and now has no moral ground to continue in his coveted position in the party structure.

Similarly, the party chairman, in view of moral imperatives of universal democratic norms, must ask the incumbent Secretary General and the Interior Minister to resign forthwith. What moral grounds are left for the sitting Prime Minister to lead a democratic administration? The simple answer is - none!

Consider more blatant violations of democratic moral or ethic norms in Pakistan’s so-called parliamentary democracy: the NAB Chairman, a non-political office, lately has openly assumed a political activist role of accusing the Supreme Court of Pakistan of interference in his legal responsibilities. What the NAB Chairman (a presidential nominee) seemingly does not intentionally understand is that the mysterious death of a NAB official investigating a major corruption case against the top leadership of the ruling party is a very, very serious matter - and that the death of the official in itself, along with various accusations of political duress and pressures against certain other officials within his institution (essentially non-political in its mission and constitutional mandate), is clear proof of his leadership failure.

A truly democratic head of state would have terminated the NAB Chairman’s services for politicising his office. But this is democratic Pakistan: personal loyalty and institutional power have always been used for vested interests. The NAB Chairman and President are both the products of this system and, indeed, both are skilful practitioners of the art of counter-clockwise politics in this country.

Aborting and abrogating the moral norms of the fundamentals of parliamentary system will not serve the cause of promoting democracy in Pakistan. Sandcastles do not last forever - solid state institutions cannot be built on weak foundations. But the fact of the matter is that in contemporary Pakistan, the entire edifice of the political structure is based on an anti-democratic culture, which has been reinforced by the incumbent political leadership - invariably leading to a dismal future of the nation. Should these political forces prevail, we are looking at a very bleak tomorrow and the days that follow. The truth is that the ruling elite expresses a level of political irrationality that transcends good political taste and sound political judgment.

Dr Qadri’s timely and aggressive intervention in the politics of this country is a hope in these dark times. He is addressing national issues with explicit clarity and offering resolutions. For example, he says that massive developmental funds given to parliamentarians now must be made illegal (these funds are being used to pre-rig the coming elections) and should be used to subsidise gas, power, petrol and other daily consumable items for the public. A truly democratic demand at a time of immense hardships faced by the common citizens. He has advocated free and fair elections - specifically calling for the removal of all four members of the Election Commission of Pakistan. Fair enough - these members are appointees of vested interest groups and the regime in power. Dr Qadri has also sought the immediate freezing of the discretionary funds of the Prime Minister and Chief Ministers - a politically-correct move - indeed, so close to the elections, these funds are being used to influence voters and are nothing but funds for pre-poll rigging.

Imran Khan’s PTI would be well advised to enter into a political alliance with Dr Qadri in a pre-emptive drive against poll-rigging, unparliamentary practices of the ruling parties and to set an agenda of political change in Pakistan.

Democracy in Pakistan can be saved and promoted only if precise democratic norms are restored and explicit resolutions to undemocratic practices are offered and put into place.

How many more Rs 82 billion democratic scams can this nation tolerate?

The writer is UAE-based academic, policy analyst, conflict resolution expert and author of several books on Pakistan and foreign policy issues. He holds a doctorate and a masters degree from Columbia University in New York.