Justice first

The highest seat of justice deserves all appraisal for the indictment of the powerful men and driving home the message to the political executive to realize that holding office is a trust, not a license to swindle and merry making.
Justice first
Representational Pic

Friday last week, the prime minister of Pakistan Nawaz Shrief was sent packing by the Supreme Court under Article 62 and Article 63 of the Constitution. The Articles state that a member of the parliament should be truthful (Sadiq) and trustworthy (Ameen). The court verdict said that having furnished a false declaration under solemn affirmation Shrief was not 'honest' under the terms of Constitution. That implies disqualification of Nawaz from office was not due to allegation of corruption brought against him in the voluminous  report of JIT (Joint Investigation Team) tasked by Apex Court to probe Shrief family's financial dealings. In fact, the corruption charges were yet to be proved. That is why the judges dispatched all of these corruption cases related to the Panama Papers scandal to the accountability courts to probe . 

What sealed the fate of strong and stable prime minister of Pakistan was his submitting an incomplete statement of assets in his 2013 nomination papers. The JIT discovered that Shrief was Chairman of the board of Dubai-based Capital FZE  which was owned by his younger son Hassan Nawaz. It also came to the fore that Shrief drew a monthly salary of 10,000 dirhams between August 7, 2007 and April 2014 till one year after he assumed power, the fact the Shrief family denied. However, upon the Supreme Court's questioning Shrief's counsel conceded before the court that former PM did serve as Chairman of the Capital FZE and was entitled to a monthly salary of ten thousand dirhams—though insisted the salary was never withdrawn by his client.  The apex court rightly reasoned that ' the statement that he did not withdraw the salary would not prevent the `unwithdrawn'  salary from being receivable, hence making it an asset.'

In a way the ousted prime minister was right when two days after his disqualification he said: ' I am proud that my disqualification was not because of allegations of corruption' (His involvement in a specific case of allegation stemming from the leak of Panama Papers that revealed  use of his family's offshore companies to launder money worth millions of dollars to purchase properties abroad is still  to be decided.) The grounds of his dismissal were not, yes, because of the corruption charges—which the court has left to the NAB (National Accountability Bureau) to probe–  but his being 'dishonest' by not declaring his receivable salary in his nomination papers. 

The entire focus of the Supreme Court  in dealing with the high profile case was to see whether or not prime minister of Pakistan was truthful in his statement. Being 'entitled to' or having 'withdrawn' some thousand dirhams during his stay abroad was not that big  'asset' Shrief had made, and likewise concealing the information does not necessary point to his intent of hiding the 'fortunes', moreover, the 'assets' he made were from his own family business deals, not result of a heist . But Shrief's hiding his Chairmanship of the company and failure to declare sums he was owed tilted scales of justice against him. He ceased, judges concluded, to be truthful and righteous—pre-requisite for a parliamentarian.

In stripping Shrief from prime minister-ship the SC has rekindled the hope of common man on the institution of justice. A belief on the supremacy of the Constitution and rule of law has been established. The 5-member SC bench has in its unanimous decision sent a stern message across that those who hold public positions will have to declare every bit of their assets, transparently, honestly and completely. Any lax attitude, much less malicious intent to dodge the law, would risk sanction.

The former PM is right in his assertion that ' there should be accountability for everyone, not just  one family or political party'. Certainly there are other frightening  political sharks that have   devoured Pakistan and raised huge financial empires in disproportionate to their income earned through rightful means. Imran Khan has been arrogantly vocal in campaign against Shrief. But he too figures in the Panama Paper leak scandal. Zardaris, Bhuttos and other feudal dynasties have looted Pakistan and evaded, using their political clout, judicial scrutiny. Now that judiciary has struck a hard blow for accountability, 'the country expects a fair , even handed implementation of new standard' that has been set in. 

Since the time the then Chief Justice Chaudhery Iftikhar  and other conscientious judges refused to submit to the bullying diktats of military dictator General Musharraf and resisted all inducements, Judiciary in Pakistan has emerged as an independent force, it has evolved to the highest standards of elegance, commanding people's trust. The ugly days of invoking the infamous 'doctrine of necessity'—where violators of Constitution and despotic regime changers would win favorable judgments from the pliant judges–  it has dusted itself off. Before Shrief's disqualification, it also delivered the uncompromising  when it asked then PM Yousuf Raza Gilani from the People's Party to file  corruption charges against  President of Pakistan and PP chairman Asif Zardari. The refusal provided enough ground for the SC to sack  Gilani. In this backdrop it is fallacious to call the Shrief's ouster a 'judicial coup'. 

The highest seat of justice deserves all appraisal for the indictment of the powerful men and driving home the message to the political executive to realize that holding office is a trust, not a license to swindle and merry making.   

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