Commission On Corruption And Restoration: A Proposal
Opportunities like the ones we have nowadays for starting afresh do not arise very often in a nation’s life. After the Panama Leaks, a political discourse targeting the corrupt practices of the ruling elite has gained momentum considerably and the common people have once again entertained a hope that we can get rid of such malpractices in our country. There is a need to keep this candle lit and give the people a chance to see such corruption-free Pakistan in the near future.
Despite the momentum and political pressure all around, something very irritating and hope-shattering is taking place somewhere in the power corridors. The government, once it has established an inquiry commission under the Commission of Inquiry Act 1956, seems unwilling to give any space to the opposition parties. The government has categorically rejected the criticism unleashed by the opposition parties on the established commission and insisted that it would not bring any change into the powers and jurisdiction of the inquiry commission. The opposition’s main criticism is regarding the terms of reference of the commission and its constitution through the Act of 1956 rather than by way of an independent legislation. The opposition has also been successful in aligning the support of the notable bodies of lawyers, such as the Supreme Court Bar Association, on these issues.
At this defining moment, the government should not avoid discussing the issue of corruption with the opposition. Anyhow the democratic process is none other than discussing and arriving at sensible decisions. If such a debate does not take place and the government continues to insist on its inflexibility, the outcome of this whole scenario would not be acceptable to the government. Any non-political force may intervene and assume charge of the anti-corruption drive. Though the political forces across the spectrum are not prepared for such untimely intervention, but the people in the streets have no issues with it. For them the real issue is the elimination of corruption and restoration of ill-gotten money whether it is deposited somewhere in Pakistan or transported abroad. The issue of continuity in the democratic process is desired by some, but that should not be at the cost of continuity to enjoy fruits from the ill-gotten assets of this country. Retorting of the sacredness of democracy without implementing financial transparency and accountability has become indigestible for those who are without the basic amenities of life.
One such critical juncture in history was experienced by South Africa when it secured independence from the apartheid regime in 1990s. South Africa reacted to the moment sensibly and established the ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ within two years of its independence. The purpose of the commission was to document the violations of human rights committed against the black population during the apartheid. The commission took almost two years in investigating the reported violations and thereafter prepared a voluminous report on it. Thousands of violations were reported to the commission, but all were not considered worthy to be included in the final report and fewer violations were actually processed for further criminal action. Though from the outset, this entire process does not appear very significant, but in reality this exercise paved the way for a new South Africa which was not only linked to its apartheid past, but was also detached from it. Linking to the past was in terms of documentation of the violations of human rights, while detaching from it was unfolded in the shape of willingness on the part of the black and white population to enter into a new social contract based on respect and dignity for the both.
Pakistan due to the malaise of corruption has reached to a point similar to the juncture where South Africa arrived about two and half decades ago. She has to choose between the continuity of corruption on the one hand or a corruption free Pakistan for her future generations on the other. A viable and sensible way to achieve the latter option is to establish a commission on those lines on which the commission was constituted in South Africa. The commission may be termed as the ‘Corruption and Restoration Commission’. It should be assigned the task of documenting all malpractices of financial nature from the birth of Pakistan to date. Since the political ruling elite have generally been involved in such practices, they should present themselves before the commission for accounting for their ill-gotten money if they are found to living and doing businesses beyond their apparent means and resources. Such accountability should start from the top (i.e. the elected representatives of the country) and thereafter should scale down to encompass other tiers of the ruling elite, including the military, judiciary and bureaucracy.
Once the proposed commission documents all financial malpractices, it should direct the felons to deposit the ill-gotten money to the government treasury. Though the restoration of the money would be satisfactory for common people, but the commission may also have jurisdiction to select some notable felons to set their example for the future miscreant. Majority of the populace is more interested in securing its looted resources and assets than infliction of criminal penalties on the felons. The felons may also be allowed a rebirth in the political process with a clean and clear past once they have restored their ill-gotten money. Constitutional provisions 62 and 63 could be suspended by appropriate legislative measures for the felons so that they are not deprived of the political process.
The proposal seems imaginative to some extent in the partisan political discourse prevailing in the country, but this is the direction in which we need to contemplate for a de novo beginning. Political game scoring may earn some players some fortunes, but in the long run we the people of Pakistan are bound to lose if we fail to materialize this wonderful opportunity for our bright future.
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