111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

Accountability and power

Transparency and accountability are to be desired in good measure for a smooth, successful, and more than that, fair, running of any operation. The terms could be on the most-wanted list of someone looking for an efficient, just government at any level but the topic in this instance was the local government.

It was a reminder that accountability and before that transparency in its making and its functions was absolutely vital for the health of a local government. It came from the chief minister Punjab at last week’s meeting on devolution and education for journalists etc, etc.

Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif made it absolutely clear that without accountability self-governance and devolution of power to the grass-roots would be problematic. In his speech he talked about the necessity of regularly carrying out the annual audit of local governments which Punjab is set to have later this year.

Had he so chosen, the opportunity was there for Shahbaz Sharif to make a statement about the virtues of sharing. But more than recognising a simple exercise in inspecting the accounts on a yearly basis as prevention against fraud and abuse of authority, the chief ministerial call could well have been a reflection of an irrepressible urge to control. The aspirants looking for roles in the ‘soon-to-be’ local governments needed to be told that the man known for making examples out of erring officials would be there — watching closely and in control.

The past few days, like any block of dates during the recent years, provided evidence of just how dangerous the urge to be everywhere can sometimes be. The Punjab government finally allowed into public domain the details of the joint investigation team that probed the Model Town case of the killing of 14 Pakistan Awami Tehreek supporters last August.

As expected the JIT report absolved Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of any part in the firing incident outside the PAT headquarters just about when PAT was readying to launch an offensive on Islamabad. The report pinned the blame on a police official who, as luck would have it, has been missing from the scene for a while.

Of course, it is a contentious conclusion of the inquiry into the Model Town tragedy. The JIT report is a formality that, in the eyes of so many, confirms that while accountability is desirable, the higher their application, the more likely the principles are to die of a lack of transparency, which is the oxygen they live on. It also pinpoints to yet another time the trouble an obsession with on-the-spot delivery could land an executive into.

The PAT office, or whatever remains of it in times when Dr Tahirul Qadri is not around, has come up with a prompt rejection of the JIT version. They are going to create some noise, and they would press for a fairer probe away from where the Punjab government can easily influence the process.

The PAT activists will be tested to the hilt and required to publicly furnish fresh proof of their powers to organise large and daunting enough protests. But if many, in the government and outside, believe that Dr Qadri has lost the appeal, and the genuine motive that he had for his protest last year, there are also well-wishers of the chief minister who would have thought that this will serve as an effective deterrent and help him rationalise his presence in the government.

There have been actually moments in the recent past where the chief minister has kept a relatively low profile, for example in the period immediately following the unfurling of the National Action Plan against militancy.

If this offered any hopes for greater emphasis on behind-the scenes workings by the central command — on institutions rather than individuals — that impression has since been dispelled. The chief minister is back to his old pace, visibly buoyed by the success of his party’s economic success, which, experts say, is only a confirmation that the national drive against militancy enjoys the confidence of both the people here and investors abroad.

Had he so chosen, the opportunity was there for Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to make a statement about the virtues of sharing. Take the signal-free road in Lahore. Good or bad, the project was conceived in times when it was unclear whether the province would be holding local government polls soon.

The situation changed in the wake of the court decision that called for the process of local government elections in Punjab to be completed by September this year.

Now although the measure appears to be unheard of here, a principled and mature reaction from the Punjab government could have been to not contest the Lahore High Court ruling which said the signal-free road should best be left to the local government, which was only a few months away. Obviously, this was too much to ask for, until and unless it was understood that the Punjab government’s argument to save the signal-free road could alternately betray a desire to pre-empt the local government.

There is so much to do out there for everyone that the urge to monopolise work is inexplicable —– even for those who have been watching Mr Shahbaz Sharif run the province with ceaseless energy for so long. There are those who are, will always be, intimidated by his style; and there are those who would want his energy spent more carefully, more jealously as the years go by and the need to slow down and preserve is increasingly felt. Both these groups would agree that there are tasks that should be left to others.

They are up and against a chief minister who must build upon and his successes, who, for instance, thinks that the one-dish rule has to be replaced by a new ban that permits serving of only beverages at weddings. Seriously, Sir? Do you really believe the people cannot decide even these small things? In that case they will never learn to hold themselves accountable for anything. Unless the idea is that they remain dependent forever.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Asha’ar Rehman, "Accountability and power," Dawn. 2015-05-22.
Keywords: Political science , Political aspects , Political issues , High court , Government-Pakistan , Journalists , Elections , Dr. Tahirul Qadri , CM Shahbaz Sharif , PM Nawaz Sharif , Pakistan , Lahore , PAT , JIT