Open Letter to CJ: Focus on Abuse of power
By Imtiaz Gul
Weekly Pulse, April 05, 2013
My dear Chief Justice,
More than 18,000 petitions in your court show the unprecedented trust that you and your colleagues have aroused among the public at large. Ever since March 2007, common Pakistanis have looked up to you all as beacons of hope for justice. That is why there is mounting tendency to resort to the Supreme Court for anything that litigants consider as violation of fundamental rights as laid down in the constitution. Additionally, you have also endeared the countrymen by taking up numerous suo motu cases in areas where the executive and the parliament failed. Unprecedented activism focused on public interest and rule of law.
But this kicks up a question as well; to what extent can the Supreme Court alone act as the only arbiter of justice? Can the honourable court take up every issue for adjudication? Can it really invoke the suo motu notices in every matter? And most importantly, wouldn’t these notices and other public interest litigation simply stretch the court beyond its capacity, and lead to an eventual limbo? After all, 17 judges cannot be held responsible for all the ills that afflict this country.
Honourable Chief Justice!
With these critical and alarming questions in mind, may we request you – in the long-term interest of the Court and the rule of law in the country – to narrow down your focus to areas where you find government officials (civilian and military), public representatives and the government in violation of most provisions of the Chapter 1 on human rights.
One such issue relates to the rampage of legislation that the national and provincial legislatures witnessed in only days before their terms were to expire. The Sindh Assembly, for instance, passed a massive 60 percent raise in salaries of MPs and those of speaker and ministers by 40 percent. Besides similar largess for the Chief Minister, all ex-MPs have been granted similar unprecedented benefits at the common tax-payer’s cost. This in a culture where the landed aristocracy – while driving in land-cruisers and Pajeros -- hardly pays up any taxes. Many of them are in default of bank loans and utility bills, mostly across the board.
Members of the national assembly also ganged up in a similar way to extract benefits from the national kitty – starting from free travel/ accommodation to janitorial services assistants.
We know that the apex court judges also recently got raises in salaries, but it’s also obvious that judges are neither public representatives nor they pursue multiple businesses. Judges of the senior judiciary are restricted to the court business only as custodians of the Constitution of Pakistan and guarantors of the rule of law.
Public representatives, on the other hand, are custodians of the trust that common people repose in them for defending their rights.
But what we have seen as the abuse of the public trust by the MPs i.e. accumulation of perks and privileges for themselves using the public mandate as the only justification. Herein comes the role of the senior judiciary i.e. to judge such moves purely on the constitutional yardstick.
Also, the issue of willful grant of funds and award of lucrative contracts (such as the one Raja Pervez Ashraf made to an advertising company) requires a much stringent scrutiny of the conduct of a sitting prime minister. Bureaucrats involved in this business transaction are also equally responsible and hence must be made accountable for partnering in reckless rip-off moves by a minister or his prime minister.
The Supreme Court can certainly set accountability benchmarks for the government and the bureaucracy. This is what Pakistan needs in the long run: Putting checks to the arbitrary conduct of a sitting government and the affiliated bureaucracy. Proposing a broad-based, bipartisan accountability mechanism could relieve the court of many of issues that are currently sucking its energy.
The National Accountability Bureau, for instance, can be easily turned into such an institution, with representation from broad sections of the society.
This will certainly spare the Court from wasting its precious time and energy in pursuing graft cases, or getting involved in issues that relate to business in Pakistan, or even religion. (The Court still carries the stigma of having released certain militants in 2007 who were not the envy of most Pakistanis and brought disrepute to the court on the contrary).
Dear Chief Justice,
Pakistan’s future lies in rule of law and constitutionalism. The Supreme Court has already put the country on this path. But it now needs a much more sharper focus to redefine fundamental issues and work for mechanisms that lend permanence to the rule of law and accountability as the guiding principles. Constitutions, we understand, are areligious, and hence the need to enforce a review of matters such as the Blasphemy Law, which continues to defame and discredit Pakistan internationally. The present Supreme Court carries a massive responsibility for the future of a liberal Pakistan where all citizens are treated equal – regardless of caste and creed, and where permanent bipartisan accountability mechanisms shut the doors on abuse of power by all and sundry.
Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the recently released book Pakistan: Before and After, published by Roli Books, India