Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Long March or Big Farce?

As the "Long March" by the Pakistani lawyers gets headlines in Pakistan and around the world, it is natural to ask what is all the fuss about? Ostensibly, it is to restore Pakistani judiciary as an independent and powerful institution and strengthen democracy. But is this a realistic expectation that an independent, powerful judiciary supported by lawyers and the media in Pakistan would be good for democracy and the rights of the average citizen? Let's look at the following facts to answer this question:

1. In most international opinion surveys on professional ethics, lawyers consistently rank near the bottom. They are slightly below the journalists and above the politicians and used car salesmen in how they are perceived by the general public worldwide. If the recent success of the movie "Michael Clayton" is any indication, the public perception of lawyers breaks down into four archetypes, each represented by a character in the movie: brutal (Sydney Pollack), disappointed (George Clooney), psychotic (Tom Wilkinson) and criminal (Tilda Swinton). It’s probably no coincidence that Clayton’s only Oscar went to Swinton.

2. In most of the rest of the world, the judges are generally perceived as honest. But not in Pakistan. According to Transparency International surveys, the Pakistani judiciary is considered the third most corrupt institution after police and power departments. Even the taxation and customs people are regarded as more honest than the judges. Among the four provincial governments, the Transparency survey ranks Punjab (the hub of the lawyers movement) as the most corrupt and NWFP the least corrupt.

3. The Pakistani judiciary (including Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry with PCO-I) has a long and inglorious history of undermining the laws and the constitution of Pakistan. This scribe has had personal experience with the individual judges of the highest courts showing little respect for the rule of law and engaging in corrupt practices and nepotism in their own personal lives for petty gains.

So why are the judges and the lawyers being elevated to such high stature by the "civil society" (read: foreign-funded NGOs*) and their media and politician cheerleaders? The answer probably lies in their obsessive need for vengeance against Musharraf by the PML(N), the lawyers and the journalists.

It probably goes beyond that. The real agenda appears to be to frustrate the newly elected PPP government and make it impossible for it to deliver on the PPP promises to the people in terms of their basic needs of roti, bijli and paani. Such a failure would likely result in the ouster of the PPP, early elections and the "restoration" of the pre-1999 situation with PML(N) government led by Nawaz Sharif.
This agenda can be accomplished with or without the restoration of judges. If the activist judges such as Iftikhar Chaudhry are restored, they can get rid of Musharraf by declaring his election invalid and rule against his NRO to put Zardari behind bars. Even if the judges are not restored, the continuing turmoil will still serve Nawaz Sharif's purpose of forcing early elections and ensuring his victory by pointing to lack of performance by Zardari.

The risk is that all the scheming by Nawaz Sharif and his supporters may actually give civilian led democracy a bad name and damage its prospects in Pakistan.

*Note on "civil society" NGOs: A recent Asian Development Bank report on Pakistani NGOs says as follows: "Much of the alarm of the Government about NGOs is recent and direct result of activities of the new breed of NGOs that appear less interested in delivering services or implementing development projects than in lobbying and advocacy. Many of these NGOs have sprung up overnight, and many appear to have huge funds and international support at their command, even though they lack any track record. They are often perceived as agents of outsiders with agendas that may be detrimental to Pakistan."


anas said...

Now that is precisely what I think. Very logical post with valid reasons and not based on rumors. I've tried to cover some anomalies of this Long March on my blog as well.

Anonymous said...

awesome, your comments are that of true patriotic pakistani, keeya Dil kee baat khe dee

Riaz Haq said...

Amidst the orchestrated march by the lawless lawyers and "civil society" to the loud drumbeat of the media, it is important that the dissenting voices be heard and not be drowned out. We can not and should not allow a bunch of black coats to distract the elected civilian government from addressing the real needs of the people for roti, bijli and paani. We can not and should not allow any one to destroy Pakistan's economy and the livelihood of millions of ordinary citizens to satisfy the whims of the well dressed and the well fed few. If , God forbid, they do succeed, it will only lead to more chaos and suffering for all Pakistanis.

Anonymous said...

i have to say this again .only people like u and mqm say these sort of things.if the judges have stood up to a dictator why the hell r u people bent on punishing them.this is the only chance to prevent further coups.ppp didnot win the election on roti kapra makan slogan.they won the hate vote against musharraf by chanting pro judiciary slogans.and ppp is now backing out of its promise because assholes like asif zardari worry that their corruption will not go unchecked.u dunt live in pakistan i do.every person from an illiterate labour to educated people know and respect iftikhar chaudry and want the hero judges back.but people like u who are abroad and have no real picture about pakistan realities say things like that.PPP is creating problems for itself.zardari was never sincere about judges restoration.how can u make judiciary indeppendent when u punish those judges who stood up to an urdu speaking fanatic dictator.

Riaz Haq said...

Dear Anonymous,
Thank you for sharing your view on the ground in Pakistan.
My concern is as follows:
Absolute power corrupts absolutely! Whether it is Musharraf, Inftikhar
Chaudhry, Zardari, Nawaz, you or I. A system of checks and balances is
necessary in a democracy to check the abuses. Justice Chaudhry did not understand that and proceeded to usurp the powers of the executive in his personal quest for revenge after he was restored the last time. He and his cohorts are likely to pursue the same agenda with greater vigor if restored again. We will then replace the tyranny of the military dictators by the tyranny of the judges. It will still be tyranny, not democracy. We want to end tyranny, not just Musharraf's or the military but of
the government that includes the judges.

Anonymous said...

There is an inintended benefit of the current turmoil; Mr. Zardari. No one is paying attention to his corruption and playboy lifestyle, who has elevated himself now to Mr. 15%.

Riaz Haq said...

Dear Anonymous,
Short term, there are several beneficiaries: 1. Nawaz Sharif, it's easier to protest than to govern in a coalition. 2. Zardari, he can carry on his personal agenda while the nation is pre-occupied with other issues and 3. Musharraf, he is enjoying the civilian leadership making a fool of themselves along with the media and the lawyers.

But long term, we are creating huge problems for the nation beset by basic issues of roti, bijli and paani that are going un-addressed.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a report about India's judges declaring their assets as part of the transparency campaign:

New Delhi, Nov 2 (IANS) Bowing to the popular demand and after a Delhi High Court ruling, which they have contested, the Supreme Court judges, led by Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan, Monday declared their assets. The CJI put the value of his assets at around Rs.18 lakh.

The judges’ assets were posted on the apex court’s official website www.supremecourtofindia.nic.in Monday evening.

Though the declaration followed a Delhi High Court ruling in September, the apex court website said the judges were voluntarily making public the assets they held.

About Justice Agrawal’s decision to declare his assets, the apex court said the details of his assets have been “uploaded on the website on his special request”.

The assets declared by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan were around Rs.18 lakhs, including his two-bedroom flat in Ernakulam worth Rs.5.75 lakh, his vacant residential plot in Faridabad measuring 444.44 sq yard valued at 4.50 lakh, and his native house in Thrikkakara South village in Kerala.

The CJI also declared other landed properties in Kerala, worth Rs.3.5 lakh and Rs.4.33 lakh. He said his wife has gold jewellery weighing 20 sovereigns and an old Santro car of 2000. He said he has no investment in shares or fixed deposits.

The apex court’s second senior most judge, Justice S.H. Kapadia, appeared to be richer than the CJI.

Justice Kapadia put the value of his declared assets at over Rs.48 lakh. The declared assets include flats, buildings, shares, mutual funds, fixed deposits, provident funds. He said he owned no vehicle.

The third senior most judge, Justice Tarun Chatterjee, declared cash worth around Rs.3 lakh, but he said that he has other properties like vehicles, gold jewellery of his wife and some ancestral property in Kolkata. Justice Chatterjee’s vehicles include a Chevrolet Tavera and a Honda Seil.

The court’s fourth senor most judge, Justice Altamas Kabir declared assets of around Rs.80 lakh, including ancestral property, besides LIC policies and saving accounts.

The fifth senior most judge, Justice R.V. Raveendran, gave a detailed account of his assets running into five pages with the exact number of his shares, debentures etc.

According to the declaration, he owns shares in about 60 companies, including Reliance Group firms belonging to both Mukesh and Anil Ambani. He is also hearing a case on gas supply disputes between the firms of the two Ambani brothers and the government.

Riaz Haq said...

President Asif Zardari's total assets are estimated at $1.5 billion, according to a NAB filing with Pakistan Supreme Court, reports the News:

ISLAMABAD: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Tuesday submitted in the Supreme Court the list of the NRO beneficiaries, which showed President Asif Ali Zardari possessing assets worth $1.5 billion (Rs 120 billion) abroad and worth Rs 24.14 billion in the country.

Deputy Prosecutor General Abdul Baseer Qureshi presented the list of 248 NRO beneficiaries before the full court, hearing the petitions challenging the infamous ordinance, promulgated in 2007 giving legal cover to the corruption of politicians and bureaucrats

A 17-member bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, had directed the NAB the other day to submit authentic details of the NRO beneficiaries. According to the list, there are at least seven abolished references against President Zardari. The list indicates that the assets of President Asif Ali Zardari in foreign countries stand at $1.5 billion, including houses and bank accounts in Spain, France, the US and Britain while his assets in the country stand at Rs 24.14 billion.

In the list, President Zardari’s assets worth Rs 22 billion were mentioned as beyond means and the cases in this regard were withdrawn by the Accountability Court on March 5, 2008, under the controversial NRO.

Similarly, cases of corruption of Rs 268.3 million regarding the purchase of Ursus Tractors (Awami Scheme) and illegal construction of the polo ground at the PM House at the cost of Rs 52.297 million were terminated under the NRO in March 2008.Likewise, the list also includes allegedly causing loss of Rs 1.822 billion to the national exchequer by President Zardari by granting licence to the ARY Gold. The said case was also terminated under the NRO ordinance.

The NAB deputy prosecutor general told the court that information regarding the misuse of authority in affairs of SGS PSI Company by Asif Ali Zardari as well as illegal award of contract to Cotecna for pre-shipment was being collected.

The NAB list included names of Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s Ambassador to United States Hussain Haqqani, Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, former NWFP chief minister Aftab Sherpao Khan, ex MNAs Nawab Yousaf Talpur, Anwar Saifullah Khan, Sardar Mansoor Leghari, Haji Nawaz Khokhar, Pir Mukarramul Haq, Brig (retd) Imtiaz, Usman Farooqi, Salman Farooqi, former president Habib Bank Younus Dalmia, Mirbaz Khetran and many others.

He submitted that the National Assembly’s standing committee approved the NRO, however, the concerned minister took it back from the assembly. During the proceedings, advocates general of the Punjab, the NWFP and Balochistan informed the court that under Section 2-A of NRO, no review boards were constituted in their respective provinces to decide the murder cases.

Advocate General Sindh Yousaf Leghari, however, informed the court that 8,000 cases were dropped under the NRO in Sindh, of which 3,000 were murder cases. He sought time to provide details of the cases decided under Section 2-A of the NRO in Sindh. The court directed the AG Sindh to submit report before the court today (Wednesday).

Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, counsel for Dr Mubashar Hassan, submitted the ordinance as whole was void because it was a fraud ordinance as it violated many substantial provisions of the Constitution.

He submitted that reconciliation meant reconciliation between husband and wife, between parents but this National Reconciliation Ordinance had trampled the rights of the entire nation. Pirzada contended that all stakeholders were not taken into confidence before its promulgation. “The nation is threatened with fragmentation,” Pirzada maintained.

Riaz Haq said...

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has unanimously declared NRO null and void ab initio, according to Dawn News:

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has declared the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) null and void in a short order.

In a landmark decision, the apex court unanimously decided that the ordinance was unconstitutional.

All old cases that had been dismissed under the NRO stand revived and can now be reopened as per the court orders.

The court said that all orders that were passed and all acquittals under the NRO were illegal and never existed.

The apex court in its order also said that all convictions that were held prior to the enactment of the NRO stand revived as well.

Now the Zar dari camp is expected to argue that, under the constitution of Pakistan, President Zardari is immune from prosecution as long as he is in office.

Related Links:

Swi ss Corruption Probe Against Zardari

NRO, Democracy and Corruption in South Asia

Pakistan's Intelligence Failure Amidst Daily Carnage

Riaz Haq said...

Here is a NY Times Op Ed by Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman on questions about rule of law in US foreclosures crisis:

The accounting scandals at Enron and WorldCom dispelled the myth of effective corporate governance. These days, the idea that our banks were well capitalized and supervised sounds like a sick joke. And now the mortgage mess is making nonsense of claims that we have effective contract enforcement — in fact, the question is whether our economy is governed by any kind of rule of law.

The story so far: An epic housing bust and sustained high unemployment have led to an epidemic of default, with millions of homeowners falling behind on mortgage payments. So servicers — the companies that collect payments on behalf of mortgage owners — have been foreclosing on many mortgages, seizing many homes.

But do they actually have the right to seize these homes? Horror stories have been proliferating, like the case of the Florida man whose home was taken even though he had no mortgage. More significantly, certain players have been ignoring the law. Courts have been approving foreclosures without requiring that mortgage servicers produce appropriate documentation; instead, they have relied on affidavits asserting that the papers are in order. And these affidavits were often produced by “robo-signers,” or low-level employees who had no idea whether their assertions were true.

Now an awful truth is becoming apparent: In many cases, the documentation doesn’t exist. In the frenzy of the bubble, much home lending was undertaken by fly-by-night companies trying to generate as much volume as possible. These loans were sold off to mortgage “trusts,” which, in turn, sliced and diced them into mortgage-backed securities. The trusts were legally required to obtain and hold the mortgage notes that specified the borrowers’ obligations. But it’s now apparent that such niceties were frequently neglected. And this means that many of the foreclosures now taking place are, in fact, illegal.

This is very, very bad. For one thing, it’s a near certainty that significant numbers of borrowers are being defrauded — charged fees they don’t actually owe, declared in default when, by the terms of their loan agreements, they aren’t.

Beyond that, if trusts can’t produce proof that they actually own the mortgages against which they have been selling claims, the sponsors of these trusts will face lawsuits from investors who bought these claims — claims that are now, in many cases, worth only a small fraction of their face value.

And who are these sponsors? Major financial institutions — the same institutions supposedly rescued by government programs last year. So the mortgage mess threatens to produce another financial crisis.