“When laws do not rule, there is no constitution”
Dr. Ikramul Haq
All public power is a sacred trust, which is to be exercised fairly, justly, honestly and in accordance with law—Supreme Court of Pakistan in Workers’ Party Pakistan & Others v Federation of Pakistan & Others [PLD 2012 Supreme Court 681]
The quote from Aristotle’s The Politics, “when laws do not rule, there is no constitution” applies aptly to Pakistan. Our rulers—civil and military alike—have been violating all established norms of ‘Rule of Law’, and the result as predicted by Aristotle, is before us. The latest example of blatant violation of rule of law came from the three-time-elected Prime Minister, who not only defied tax laws with impunity, but has also squandered taxpayers’ money for defending personal cases in courts. During the Panama Case hearings, many members of the Cabinet were abusing taxpayers’ money on defending Nawaz Sharif and his three children in a matter that was entirely personal in nature. This misdemeanour (defined as “corrupt practice” under the law) remains unnoticed on the part of National Accountability Bureau (NAB). Now that references are to be filed against Nawaz Sharif and his offspring by NAB, abuse of public funds and payment of fees to counsel, if from national exchequer, should also be probed.
According to data presented in the National Assembly by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nawaz Sharif spent a total of 185 days abroad in 65 foreign tours with accompanying staff of 631 officers which cost the exchequer Rs. 638.27 million. By contrast, he visited Parliament only 35 times during his 940 days in power.
The matter of abusing taxpayers’ money was not restricted to Nawaz Sharif. All the rulers have been enjoying unprecedented perquisites and benefits (for entire family and clan), foreign visits and luxurious living at the expense of the national exchequer. For example, few remember the 18-day visit of General Pervez Musharraf in 2006 to the United States and three other countries that according to late Khalid Hassan [Daily Times, October 30, 2006] was one of the most expensive ever undertaken by any Pakistani head of state or government. In New York, he and his entourage stayed at the Roosevelt Hotel, the bill of which was over $500,000. Twenty-eight limousines plus two vans were hired for the delegation which cost the Pakistani taxpayer $375,000. General Pervez Musharraf undertook 37 foreign tours between January 2003 and January 2008 costing the national exchequer Rs. 1.468 billion.
Former Prime Minister, Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, disqualified to take part in any elections till 2017, will always be remembered for his record number of visits abroad. He made 43 official trips during his tenure from March 2008 to June 2012. Asif Ali Zardari, who left the presidency on September 8, 2013 after completing five-years in the highest office of the land, went on 93 foreign visits, 25 of which were to Dubai alone, again at taxpayers’ expense.
When a political party comes into power and public officeholders start running day-to-day governmental affairs, they are required to demonstrate transparency in all spheres of governance. Prudent utilisation of taxpayers’ money is the prime responsibility of every elected government. If public funds are misused for personal gains or for the party’s purposes, it amounts to violating the supreme law of the land—Constitution of Pakistan—providing disqualification of any public office holder who is guilty of violating any provision of Article 62. Pilferage of taxpayers’ money—a scared trust—cannot be allowed under any circumstances. It is considered a serious crime in every society. A citizen of Pakistan cannot contest elections unless he or she is “sagacious, righteous, non-profligate, honest and ameen” [Article 62(f) of the Constitution]. After being elected, if the worthy public officeholders are found not to be trustworthy by spending taxpayers’ money for personal reasons, they are to be proceeded under the law for disqualification.
In Pakistan, even during civilian rules, the elected representatives opted to put on the shoes of autocrats and make certain that the right to rule as head of state remains a family heirloom. With this style of governance, the innocent people of this country think that their problems would be resolved, peace and security will prevail and the country will progress rapidly towards economic development. The people of this country are shouldering a heavy load of the extravagant life-style of its ruling elites—militro-judicial-civil-bureaucracy complex. It is about time that the political parties realise their responsibilities. The governments instead of spending lavishly on luxuries, comfort and security of ministers and parliamentarians, should pay more attention to the comfort and security of those who elected them to these offices with great hopes and aspirations.
Along with the many key areas that have caught the attention of the apex court under Article 184(3) of the Constitution, the issue of containing party activities outside the limits of national governance should also be taken up. The Election Commission has no suo moto powers to take cognizance of such serious lapses, but superior courts do have. No one in the media has ever attempted to draw the attention of the public towards such blatant acts of misappropriation of public money. Political analysts sharply criticise every move made by the rulers of the day but seem to have no qualms about private political meetings held at the expense of the taxpayers’ hard-earned money. It is really amazing that this country has not yet witnessed any tax rebellion wherein people simply refuse to pay taxes if their money is thus squandered!
In civilized countries there are stringent laws by which, political parties are required not only to file their income tax returns but are also supposed to account for all sources of donations and answer for any amounts paid by dubious donors. Besides, even the amounts spent on election campaigns are restricted and closely monitored by election organizers. On the contrary we, in this Land of Pure, spend lavishly on election campaigns and once in power, try to make up manifold for this money in ways which are not hidden from anyone. Filling up their own private coiffures is one thing (of course not justified) but to actually waste public money cannot and should not be condoned.