STRAIGHT TALKS

The octopus of corruption has spread its strangling tentacles to every nook and corner of our government and society. All governments, both military and civil, have promised to kill this monster, but none succeeded and it still lives in the depth of our seas.

To fight the menace of corruption, the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) on 31 October, 2003 and designated 9th December as "International Anti-Corruption Day", to disseminate awareness against corruption as well as initiate measures for combating and preventing it.

The International Anti-Corruption Day is celebrated on 9th December around the world to raise concerns about gravity of issues and threats posed by corruption. We join the world in observing the International Anti-Corruption Day, with a call to fellow citizens to raise voice against corruption and corrupt practices in our beloved Pakistan.

No doubt, corruption is a global problem, especially in Third World countries, but in Pakistan, the Land of the Pak and the Pure, it has been institutionalised and has destroyed our moral fibre.

Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gains and anti-corruption work is not just about punishing the corrupt, although prosecution of corrupt individuals is important to demonstrate that corruption is not tolerated and no one is immune from prosecution.

It is a complex social, political and economic phenomenon that erodes the whole fabric of the society. Moreover, it destabilises democratic institutions, undermines economic development, perverts the rule of law and ultimately results into governmental instability. Corruption is an impediment which breeds injustice and mistrust that leads to a sense of insecurity and uncertainty among national as well as foreign investors.

The people of the country should act like one nation, to resolve the national issues collectively especially to eradicate the menace of corruption. Corruption resistant society promotes good governance which can help in achieving development, social harmony, rule of law and political and economic stability.

Pakistan started fight against corruption in 1947, immediately after its creation as a sovereign state. The constituent assembly of Pakistan passed the first law to curb the menace of corruption namely "Prevention of Corruption Act 1947". Thereafter a number of laws have been enacted and various agencies have been established to fight corruption. Some of the laws approved by the competent forums are:

The first law, "Prevention of Corruption Act", was promulgated in 1947. No special department/agency was established to implement the law against corruption. The special police inherited at the time of independence served as the enforcement agency under this law. This district police and this special police were part and parcel.

The Public Representatives Disqualifying Act and Elected Bodies Disqualification Ordinance promulgated by the first martial law government of General Ayub Khan (1958-69) are the most important trendsetters in history of anti-corruption efforts in Pakistan.

The laws served the government's purpose to bring forward its own breed of pliant politicians by disqualifying the prominent politicians. Real intent of the law becomes obvious by the provision that prosecution could be avoided by agreeing not to take part in politics for 15 years. Almost 7,000 politicians were banned from politics under the law. These laws started a ruinous trend of use of anti-corruption mechanism for achieving political goals.

The third anti-corruption effort was made during 1996-1998 by promulgation of Ehtesab Act in 1996. An Ehtesab Commission was set up under this act in 1996. This commission was supplemented by an Ehtesab Bureau in 1997.

The Bureau assumed the function of investigation while the Commission carried on with the prosecution. One important feature of the law of 1996 was that it brought the highest public functionaries including the President and the Prime Minister under the ambit of anti-corruption law.

The law created special benches comprising high court judges which were to hear these anti-corruption cases. These benches were to decide the cases in 30 days. The overall collective impact of the effort was negative because it created the impression of political victimisation among the masses. Anti-corruption became synonymous with the political victimisation.

The National Accountability Bureau has adopted a multi-faceted strategy, which banks heavily on Awareness and Prevention of Corruption in addition to Enforcement and Prosecution.

The Awareness and Prevention process when synergised with Enforcement ensures that possibility of abuse of authority is substantially reduced and corruption is ultimately curbed.

The National Accountability Ordinance 1999 was promulgated by repealing the Ehtesab Bureau Act 1996 and established a completely new agency by the name of National Accountability Bureau on the pattern of anti-corruption agencies in countries like Hong Kong and Singapore.

The NAB Ordinance broadened the definition of corruption further to include "persons who maintain a living standard not commensurate with their known sources of income". The scope of agency was broadened to include the private sector.

Other perceived lacunas in the earlier laws are also addressed to give the Bureau a very comprehensive legal backing. Most importantly the traditional doctrine of law which embodies the presumption of innocence of the accused was also changed in a bid to create an effective deterrence against corruption. Remand law was also changed to give the bureau enhanced powers of investigation.

Criminal procedure laws in Pakistan normally allow a maximum of 14 days remand of accused to custody of the investigating agencies but in this case the remand period was enhanced to 90 days. NAB has been given special powers of voluntary return (VR) and plea bargain through section 25 of the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999.

Under the awareness regime, cooperation of ordinary citizens has been sought through publication and dissemination of messages on utility bills and public advertisements. Moreover, Character Building Societies (CBS) have been established in Universities, Colleges and Schools who are working effectively in raising the awareness against corruption.

Unless the octopus of corruption is killed, it will continue to spread its tentacles and destroy the moral fibre of our country.

–(trust@helplinetrust.org.pk)