Dr. Haider Shah

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance (Plato).

OVER A COFEE: Mafias and governance , The Daily Times, September 19, 2015

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Traders do not get themselves registered voluntarily and when the withholding tax for non-filers of tax returns is introduced, they go on strike
A mafia protects the mutually shared interests of its members by insulating the group from any external influence. In Pakistan, historically, there are two institutions, the army and judiciary, which wield immense power as they carry guns and pens respectively. And these are the two institutions that have evaded all calls for accountability as well. As the judiciary’s powers are of a de jour nature, derived from the Constitution, let us first consider its place.

Justice Munir laid the foundation of rationalising the despotic use of power by autocrats against the legislature by becoming a collaborator with the then establishment. In Pakistan’s chequered constitutional history, the judiciary played the role of an abettor in civil and military coups. The brief saga of Iftikhar Chaudhry proved a pleasant departure from the rule. But even in that worthwhile period of an assertive judiciary, we saw restraint on the part of the judiciary to hold those to account who had collaborated with Pervez Musharraf. While during Iftikhar Chaudhry’s tenure some remarkable judgments were seen, the Supreme Court (SC) refused to allow its accounts to be audited like other users of taxpayers’ money. Interestingly, the British SC furnishes its accounts for full scrutiny every year but in Pakistan our honourable judges perhaps confuse independence with being unaccountable.

The army is the most powerful institution by virtue of its de facto power of having guns. It consumes the biggest chunk of our national kitty at almost 25 percent. Khawaja Asif, as an opposition MNA in Musharraf’s era, thundered on in parliament over lack of financial accountability of military spending. Now as a lacklustre defence minister he has not spoken out even once about increasing financial accountability by discussing military spending more rigorously in the public accounts and defence committees of parliament. He has been reduced to the status of a transmitter of scripted “India is our enemy” statements in this new era of piety and patriotism. There are many pending inquiry cases of corruption and irregularities against ex-servicemen as per audit reports and the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB’s) records. But the military does not allow any investigation agency to come anywhere near its members. Requests for cooperation remain unaddressed and notices sent by lawful authorities are summarily binned. When the media pressure in the case of the indefencible National Logistics Cell (NLC) scam became unrelenting, the cases of generals were separated from other civilian officers and were tried inside the organisation. This is a very bad precedent that does not augur well for the rule of law. We have yet to see NAB or any other civilian law enforcement organisation bringing known offenders like Mirza Aslam Baig, Asad Durrani and Pervez Musharraf to book.

All groups that in one way or another can cause nuisance resort to mafia-like tactics. For instance, take the example of the traders: the tajir biradari. Just look at their shining vehicles, posh residences, numerous hajj and umrahs. The lavishness can be seen oozing out of their personas. But they will shake the whole of Pakistan with their organised wailing if asked to pay taxes. They do not get themselves registered voluntarily and when the withholding tax for non-filers of tax returns is introduced, they go on strike. Recently, the oil tankers association once again demonstrated its mafia power by forcing the government to withdraw the imposition of five percent sales tax. Our electronic media also plays second fiddle to such blackmailing tactics by making a hue and cry about oil shortages and blaming the government for this situation. From angelic politicians to media analysts, we see a chorus of lamentation over our poor tax-to-GDP ratio of about 10 percent. We are closer to the lower ranked Afghanistan than being farther from the higher ranked Nepal in the tax-to-GDP rankings list. But we are not ready to stand up to the blackmailing of certain well-entrenched groups. We want that change should walk in without disturbing our slumber.

The purpose of professional bodies of doctors and lawyers is to regulate the professions by acting as custodians of quality and discipline. We regularly see disciplinary cases against doctors and lawyers by their professional bodies in the UK and revocation of licences is a very common occurrence. But in Pakistan the professional bodies are also a form of mafia that only come into action when any member of the professional fraternity is made accountable for acts of negligence or sheer criminality. I have mentioned just a few mafia houses. There are many more of course.

With greater power comes greater responsibility. I wish the powerful of this country understood this principle from the hit movie Spiderman if nothing else.

Author: Dr. Haider Shah

Academic, Researcher and Writer

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