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January 22, 2021

Broadsheet blues

Opinion

January 22, 2021


The Broadsheet scam has established two things beyond a shadow of doubt: that corruption is endemic in the country, mostly afflicting the highest echelons of society; and that the ruling elite have been complicit in condoning it and, in the long run, even rewarding it with countless benefits and incentives.

Even more importantly, it also establishes the reality that there is an elite capture of all national institutions and resources and, with the aid and abetment of multiple layers of support which people in seats of power have nurtured through decades, they are always able to escape the dragnet of justice after committing even the most heinous crimes.

The sequence of events leading to the award of three judgements in the Government of Pakistan and National Accountability Bureau vs Broadsheet LLC case encompasses the setting up of NAB by General Musharraf in 1999, hiring of Broadsheet in 2000 to hunt illegal money stashed away by 200 targets, discovery of illicit funds and properties worth millions owned by members of the ruling elite, non-implementation of the findings, termination of agreement with Broadsheet in 2003, promulgation of an NRO in 2007, withdrawal of cases against the purported criminals, institution of a recovery case by Broadsheet, the government’s non-serious response leading to imposition of penalty, payment of an amount of $1.5 million in settlement to a wrong person, the PPP and PML-N governments having most of the cases written off through appointing complicit chairpersons of NAB and rubbishing Broadsheet’s request for honouring the arbitration decision, penalty swelling to $28.5 million, the judgements in 2016, 2018 and 2019 and the freezing of the Pakistan High Commission account, thus forcing the GoP to pay Broadsheet as per the adjudications.

In addition to having committed the original crime of defrauding the state to the tune of millions of dollars, the rulers were also complicit in influencing and sabotaging the working of NAB to help the alleged criminals escape accountability. This gruesome saga is spread over more than two decades. Through these times, neither has anyone been punished for their crimes, nor has an appropriate mechanism been created to avert such happenings in the future.

The extent of gross manipulation exercised in this demeaning episode can be gauged from the fact that, while the government was obliged to pay the damage as adjudicated by the court, the bulk of the amount of corruption against which it was paid was forfeited through the promulgation of the NRO which was later declared void ab initio by the Supreme Court. Despite that, there was neither any reversal of the NRO, nor were any cases renewed against the alleged criminals for recovery of the looted millions.

The events of the case reflect the stranglehold which has been put around the neck of the state through all the years of its existence, be it in the days of dictatorships or the so-called democratic dispensations. Everyone’s hands are soaked in remorseless plunder and pillage which have been perpetrated to not only defile the image of the state, but also deprive it of its resources which could have been used for gaining economic sovereignty and improving the lot of its impoverished communities. Through trademark access to graft and pelf from multiple sources, the ruling elite manoeuvred to become the masters of national destiny while the poor were consigned to making a servile and captive group meant for menial jobs.

The Broadsheet case also proves that, instead of punishing its criminals, the state has been engaged in paving the way for them to escape the clutches of the law, be it through the enactment of NRO-like deals, or other such mechanisms crafted to protect them from facing accountability. The time has really come for the state to introspect whether it can survive such criminal ventures and whether it can allow its beneficiary elite to exploit the power vested in their hands to render institutions dysfunctional to satiate their lustful indulgences.

What makes matters worse is a sickly denial syndrome. Even those whose crimes are established beyond a shadow of a doubt refuse to acknowledge them, with their apologists blaming institutions for meting injustice. The worst part is that every punishment is greeted with a victory sign as if committing a crime is a noble and elevating act. The Broadsheet blues present a ghastly saga of crime and cover-up. While the state is looted of its resources, these people remain bereft of any shred of honour and self-esteem. That, indeed, is worrisome.

In a welcome response, the government has made all documents and court adjudications relating to the Broadsheet case public. Simultaneously, it constituted a ministerial committee which has recommended formation of an enquiry committee headed by a former Supreme Court or high court judge to probe the Broadsheet episode in its entirety.

If the government initiatives in the aftermath of the Broadsheet scam lead to the recovery of the looted monies and enactment of effective legislation to hold criminals accountable, it would be well worth it. But if this episode passes without any feathers ruffled, we are doomed.

The writer is the special assistant to the PM on information, a political and security strategist, and the founder of the Regional Peace Institute.

Twitter: @RaoofHasan