Anytime a figure under investigation can flout the law and flee from the country, it is a failure of the law enforcement agencies and the government.  We see this executive failure to implement the law with the owners of Shaheen Air International (SAI), who, despite having cases of non-payment of enormous dues to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and salaries to their workers, sat on a plane and fled abroad, disregarding the rule of law.

The airlines had been in trouble for some time, being embroiled in severe financial crisis. It has been taken to court over a dispute with the CAA over non-payment of the airline’s dues of Rs1.5 billion to the aviation authority. It was also facing cases over non-payment of salaries to its employees, which the Chief Justice of Pakistan said was a “human rights violation”.

The fact that the law enforcement agencies and the government weren’t able to prevent the owners from fleeing abroad is a massive embarrassment. It is not as if the government had not been notified about the seriousness of the cases against Shaheen- the CAA had requested the Interior Ministry to place the SAI Chairman Kashif Mehmud Sehbai and Chief Executive Officer Ehsan Khalid Sehbai on the Exit Control List (ECL) since last September, and then moved cases against it so that the SAI owners wouldn’t fly out. The fact that, despite repeated requests and a SC case, the government did not place SAI owners on the ECL and they were able to flout the law so easily undermines the legal system in our country and encourages financial criminals to act with impunity.

More than anything else this episode is a sharp reminder of how broken our ECL system is. The ECL has often been used as a political tool to place innocent law-abiding politicians or journalists at a moment’s whim for political reasons, while high flight risk financial criminals are let off easily.  The nonchalance of the government towards placing financial defaulters, for whom the list was designed for in the first place, looks worse when compared to the recent placement of innocent politicians like Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir on the ECL who have been placed for no apparent reason but to exert political pressure. After the controversy of placing Cyril Almeida on the ECL, this instance of evasion of justice highlights the ever increasing need for ECL reform.