Fear of unfair responsibility – Opinion
Pakistan’s system of governance and accountability may be on the verge of collapse. The system crumbles with dysfunctional bureaucracy and institutions. Very few agents and institutions are ready to act out of fear of unfair responsibility and victimization. From the outside, it appears that the accountability system has been carefully designed to victimize political and institutional opponents.
Whoever is in power uses the system to brutalize their opponents. The culture of media litigation is icing on the cake. The majority of the public is marginalized and disenfranchised, faced with a criminal justice system that protects the elite.
It looks like the whole system needs an overhaul. The ruling party rose to power on the slogan of justice. Sadly, the administration of justice has not improved over the past three years, as political victimization continues.
Those who have likely committed financial and white collar crimes have received NROs in the past, while the rest are granted amnesties from time to time. A few years later, these lead to new trials and interrogations under subsequent regimes, and the vicious circle continues.
Some cases are needlessly dragged along. When politics becomes personal, it leads to tac-for-tou. The public suffers as bureaucrats are reluctant to make business decisions, invariably resulting in delays. The cost is either borne by the public purse, and possibly by consumers. A similar story runs through most decision-making processes.
Outside of these high profile cases or trials, many professionals have been victimized in white collar crime cases. There are a number of accountability institutions dealing with white collar crime with no clear boundaries or jurisdiction. And the capacity of officials in these accountability institutions is weak to deal with financial crimes.
Then, sometimes, the justice system also fails to demonstrate its ability to deal with white collar crimes on merit. The whole value chain has capacity and competence issues. It sounds like the example of an old PTV drama “Choti si Duniya” where the main character Janu German won the English speaking contest for judges who cannot speak English. The German Janu wins today in real life.
The point is that officers of accountability institutions have the power to arrest and detain people. Bail is a fundamental right, not a privilege. How can an accused (not convicted) of white collar crime not be released on bail? According to a seasoned lawyer, in the “best” countries, unlicensed offenses are extreme crimes where the accused poses a threat to society if released – such as terrorism, murder, kidnapping. against ransom and drugs. Usually heinous and inhumane crimes are not susceptible to bail.
How can a person accused of financial crime be detained for a long time? This puts the person at a disadvantage in making their case. There are examples where the accused has been in custody for 5-6 years, and essentially that person faces a pre-trial conviction for years. There are cases where people die during the trial.
There are doubts about the ability of investigators and the system to deal with sophisticated (white collar) financial crimes. There are doubts about their background for dealing with such crimes. Do they have material that can be prosecuted under the relevant laws to determine criminal liability? According to a legal expert, those responsible for the case are concentrating on the classification of the cases but not on their logical conclusion. It seems the policy is to file cases for the good of the cases.
When an accused is unnecessarily detained and a media trial is held, that person’s reputation – whether a businessman or a government official – is tarnished. It is an irreparable loss for the person and their family. If that person is wrongly prosecuted and is a civil servant, their promotion or placement is in jeopardy. These come with social taboos. This is double victimization – one involves keeping the person in detention and the other has socio-economic consequences after the person is released. A lawyer called this phenomenon “harassment”.
Repairing the justice system is the most important structural reform required. And to carry out structural reforms in other sectors, policymakers need to make bold decisions. Without fear of undue accountability, officers are reluctant to even make routine decisions. The economy and society may not be able to point in the right direction without making criminal justice a fair system.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021