Parliament Watch Political cost of misdeeds Every now and then, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif are found proclaiming that they lead two of the cleanest governments in the country’s rocky history. To support their claims, they refer to the absence of any court cases against them, as opposed to their recent predecessors who find themselves bogged down in cases of corruption they allegedly committed when in power.
Indeed, the Sharif brothers are often heard challenging the same political opponents at their public rallies, asking why they haven’t taken them (the Sharifs) to court if they could prove charges of financial corruption against them.
That the two PML-N supremos are facing no corruption charges in the country’s courts is a fact. But does that also make their governance clean?
If you ask their main rival, the PPP, it would blame the plethora of corruption cases against its leaders on the judicial activism of the former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and the accompanying political propaganda that portrayed their governments as being worse than unclean before the public. According to the PPP, in reality, the present PML-N government is guilty of more serious wrongdoings and bad governance than theirs are accused of.
Prejudices apart, the PPP leaders have a point. Throughout its five years in power from 2008 to 2013, the Supreme Court remained stacked with suo motu charges, as well as cases filed by the government’s rivals.
The electronic and print media relished in reporting and commenting on every bit of the myriad charges against former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and his cabinet members, without caring whether the proceedings substantiated the charges or not.
In those years, the Supreme Court was the most happening place.
There were many incidents of apparent bad governance of the PPP government, which the court turned into suo moto proceedings. For example, the Pakistan Steel Mills remained in headlines for the suo motu probe into how the huge public sector entity, once a national pride, fell into ruins. One wonders how the then-chief justice would react to the current state of affairs of the mills.
Today the mills, once an enterprise of national pride, stand literally redundant. But little is heard about that except for a few stories in the media, suggesting that the neglect was designed to make the mills a fit case for privatization.
Retired Justice Chaudhry was also obsessed with the postings and transfers in the powerful bureaucracy. There was the famous Anita Turab case in which the officer had moved the Supreme Court against the “politicisation of bureaucracy” and seeking merit-based appointments. The case brought huge bad press to the PPP government in its twilight years under the Raja Parvez Ashraf as prime minister. Ms Turab won the case, with a sweeping court ruling against politicisation and violation of merit.
But the PML-N government seems in good luck as the present Supreme Court very rarely invokes its right to take suo-moto notice.
A few weeks ago, a group of senior Federal Board of Revenue officials challenged the promotion of their two colleagues to BPS 22 who occupied 10th and 16th place in the seniority list. However, the development made no waves in the media.
Justice Chaudhry would most likely have taken notice and the apparent infringement would have made big news.
When the PPP was in power, top bureaucrats invariably answered the Supreme Court summons for their acts of commission and omission. But nothing of that sort has happened in recent times, though the PML-N rulers are known for heavily banking on civil servants for achieving the results they want.
The PPP faced suo moto-inspired cases ranging from oil and gas prices, trade deals (Riko Diq mining) and Haj arrangements to government subsidies on various commodities.
But the present PML-N government has survived unscathed accusations of committing blunders of bigger scale. Clearance of circular debt of Rs400 billion in violation of rules, jacking up of Nandipur power project cost, carrying out Islamabad metro bas project at a bloated price, and appointing junior officers at senior positions, are few cases in point.
Imran Khan and his PTI may be breathing hot at its neck all the time, but the PML-N government has escaped the sort of muck that stuck to the PPP to its doom.