Friday, October 5, 2012

NLC scam and accountability process

While corruption and non-conformity of the societal order is an outcome of bad governance and non-functioning of government institutions, it leaves enough space for some crafty opportunists to amass large fortunes. Advanced democracies like the UK, US, Canada and Australia have strong media and criminal justice systems to combat corruption. But the developing world’s political and civil institutions are weaker, and in effect license corruption with impunity. However, as a part of the ongoing cleansing drive initiated by the electronic media to unearth unholy doings in the civil society, even some high ranking officials of Pakistan Army, Pakistan Navy and Pakistan Air Force are being tried and cases have been made public through the media.

The vibrant media has unveiled many major scams such as Pakistan Steel Mill’s Rs22 billion scam, NICL case, corruption in Pakistan International Airlines and Pakistan Railways, Haj corruption case, Nato containers’ case, rental power projects and the ephedrine quota case.

More recently, a stage is set against Major General Khalid Zaheer Akhtar, Lt. General Khalid Munir and Lt. General Afzal Muzzafar for their involvement in the National Logistics Cell (NLC) scandal. Better late, then never. Pakistan military has been already censured by the media on the dilly-dallying tactics adopted in the fulfilment of justice.

The initial reluctant response by the echelons of military’s accountability process can only be diluted, if military castigates this culture of impunity and restore its high-esteemed image in the eyes of the general public. It goes to the army’s credit that instead of hushing up the scandal, it ordered investigations and recording of the Summary of Evidence (SoE) that is the preliminary step in requisitioning a court martial.

All the three general officers are facing court-martial after being recalled into service. The GHQ is evaluating the evidence and experts are being consulted in the investigation of the record of the case.

Recalling the previous happening of the multi-billion-rupee National Logistics Cell (NLC) scam, it was the audit of accounts of the NLC, a subsidiary of Planning Commission that unearthed the mega scam. Established in August 1978, the NLC is an organisation involved in infrastructure development, provision of freight services, management of border terminals and strategic inland dry ports, manufacturing and engineering excellence, and enhancing energy resources.

The audit department had reported to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that the NLC had obtained Rs4.3 billion in loans from banks between 2004 and 2008 for investment in volatile stock exchange market “by purchasing shares of different enlisted companies/institutions, violating the NLC’s Board of Directors (BoD) instructions” and suffered Rs1.84 billion losses. However, due to implementation of sagacious reforms, the NLC returned approximately Rs9.3 billion in loans in 2011 and showed a net profit of Rs3 billion.

But, this does not exonerate the incumbents from the financial irregularities and failure in observing the rule and regulations of the institution. The Board of Inquiry (BOI) was held by the Planning Commission and the recommendations were subsequently referred to the General Headquarters (GHQ) on September 20, 2010. The recording of four Summaries of Evidence (SoE) delayed the accountability process and the Army could not submit the inquiry report of the National Logistic Cell (NLC) scam by the deadline of June 30 given by parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Now, the Judge Advocate General of Pakistan Army is preparing the case for the court martial and consulting judicial experts. The credibility of the evidence gathered through the SoE will determine the next course of action by the Army.

The accused in the NLC scam are both military officers and civilians, and are to be tried separately under military and civil criminal laws. It is hoped that the accused in this trial should get full justice. The trial should not be either an eye-wash nor should be used as mean to divert the on-going media purification drive from the corrupt and mismanagement policies of current government.

More importantly, this unprecedented trial in the annals of Pakistan military history should not be an end in itself but a never ending continuation of cleansing process.