Wednesday, December 16, 2009

NRO Amnesty Voided By Pakistan's Supreme Court

In a historic decision, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, 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 Zardari camp is expected to argue that, under the constitution of Pakistan, President Zardari is immune from prosecution as long as he is in office.

While the final outcome of the NRO beneficiaries' cases and the fate of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats remains uncertain, I welcome the fact that the Supreme Court of Pakistan's verdict has refused to legitimize corruption in Pakistan. It is a giant step toward strengthening rule of law and restoration of confidence in the nation's top judiciary.

Here is an interesting video clip of a Pakistani minister's frank admission of the PPP involvement in bribery. Listen to Mr. Abdul Qayyum Khan Jatoi, Federal Minister for Defense Production, proclaiming that it is the “political right” of every politician to do corruption: “yaar, karrapshun pay humara haq nahiN hai, aur unn ka hai!”:

Here's a video report about the arrest of the same PPP minister Abdul Qayyum Khan Jatoi in 2008 by Islamabad Police at a Islamabad brothel called Cat Club before he was sworn in as a Federal Minister in the current cabinet:

Related Links:

Swiss Corruption Probe Against Zardari

How Long Can President Zardari Survive?

NRO, Democracy and Corruption in South Asia

Feudal Power Dominates Pakistan Elections

Pakistan's Intelligence Failure Amidst Daily Carnage


Riaz Haq said...

The corruption of Pakistani politicians is exceeded only by their incompetence. With economy in virtual recession, the FDI is dropping as reported by The News:

Thursday, December 17, 2009
KARACHI: Net foreign investment in Pakistan fell 25.6 per cent to $1.08 billion in the first five months of the 2009/10 fiscal year compared with $1.45 billion in the same period a year earlier, the central bank said on Wednesday.

Out of total foreign investment, foreign direct investment fell 52.2 per cent to $774.0 million in the first five months of the fiscal year which began on July 1 from $1.62 billion for the same months last year, the State Bank of Pakistan said.

But foreign portfolio investment flows reversed, with a $311.3 million inflow in the July to November period compared with an outflow of $162.9 million in the same period last year.

Authorities imposed a floor on the Karachi Stock Exchange benchmark index in August last year as political uncertainty and economic and security worries drained investor confidence.

The floor discouraged new investment and also led to a sharp outflow of funds, as foreign investors sold holdings in off-market trade.

The floor was removed in December. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) saved Pakistan from a balance of payments crisis with a $7.6 billion emergency loan package in November last year. The loan was increased to $11.3 billion on July 31.

Pakistan’s economy is in virtual recession as gross domestic product growth in the 2008/09 fiscal year of 2 per cent is about the same as population growth. The IMF has projected GDP growth flat at 2 per cent this fiscal year.

Security concerns over a Taliban insurgency based in the country’s northwest and chronic power shortages have also put off investors.

Riaz Haq said...

Here is an AP story about the aftermath of Pakistan's amnesty reversal:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—Pakistan's anti-corruption agency has barred the defense minister and nearly 250 other top officials from leaving the country as political turmoil deepens following a Supreme Court ruling that struck down a graft amnesty.

The agency said Thursday that the officials were now under investigation following this week's court verdict, which meant that up to 8,000 graft and other cases dating back to the 1990s have, or will soon be, reopened. The decision has roiled the country's political elite just as the United States is looking for a solid partner to help it fight against al-Qaida and the Taliban along the Afghan border.

U.S.-allied President Asif Ali Zardari and several of his key aides are among those who benefited from the amnesty deal. Zardari is protected by constitutional immunity from any criminal prosecution, but opponents say they plan to challenge his eligibility for office.

Pakistan's anti-corruption agency said 247 people who had cases withdrawn under the amnesty had been blocked from travel because cases against them were now under investigation. It did not say who was on the list, but Pakistani news channels reported that Interior Minister Rehman Malik—a key aide of Zardari—was included, as well as Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar.

Mukhtar told a local television station that immigration officials at the airport had barred him from boarding a Pakistani International Airlines plane to China along with the navy chief late Thursday. He said he planned to take delivery of a new warship. It was not clear what he was being investigated for.

While the armed forces are under nominal civilian control, analysts say that in reality the top brass—not Mukhtar—make the decisions regarding defense issues. As such, investigations against him and Malik are not expected to directly impact the country's fight against militancy in the border regions.

Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling has significantly weakened Zardari and raised question marks over his future. It has been welcomed by many Pakistanis, who viewed the graft amnesty as an immoral piece of legislation that whitewashed the crimes of the elite.

The 54-year-old, who heads the country's largest party, is already unpopular, in large part because of his close ties with Washington. He now faces the prospect of bruising court battles that will likely mean old corruption charges come under fresh scrutiny.

Zardari's aides said any corruption charges against him were politically motivated and noted that they have never been proved despite being aired since the 1990s. Critics countered he was morally obligated to resign, at least while the court heard any challenges to his rule.

"It will be in his own interest, it will be in the interest of his party and it will be good for the system," said Khawaja Asif, a senior leader from the opposition Pakistan Muslim League party.

The Obama administration needs political stability in Pakistan to succeed in neighboring Afghanistan, where violence against U.S. and NATO troops is running at all time highs. Washington is trying to get Islamabad to crack down on insurgents close to the northwestern border who it says are behind much of the insurgency in Afghanistan.

Earlier Thursday, two U.S. missile strikes pummeled targets in the border region killing 17 people, local intelligence officials said. The latest attacks in more than 40 this year rained down Thursday on North Waziristan, a haven for al-Qaida and the Taliban, including groups determined to push the U.S. and NATO out of Afghanistan.

It was not immediately clear exactly who or what was the target of the strike, and the Pakistani officials said they were trying to establish the identities of the dead.

Riaz Haq said...

Here is a BBC story about the aftermath of Pakistan's amnesty reversal:

A judge in Karachi has summoned the Interior Minister, Rehman Malik to appear before an anti-corruption court.

It follows a court ruling this week which ruled out an immunity granted to the minister and thousands of other Pakistani officials.

Mr Malik is one of around 250 officials whose corruption and criminal cases have been re-opened.

On Thursday Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar was barred from going to China after he was stopped at the airport.

Mr Mukhtar said immigration officials prevented him from boarding the plane for an official visit.

The latest developments after the supreme court ruled on Wednesday that an amnesty protecting senior members of government was unconstitutional.

Only recently has it been revealed that more than 8,000 politicians and officials benefited from the legislation.

Those under investigation are barred from leaving Pakistan but the others have so far not been named.

Presidential immunity

The BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Islamabad says that the ruling has thrown Pakistan's political administration into turmoil.

Our correspondent says that calls are growing for the president and the entire government to step down - something presidential aides have said will not happen.

The controversial amnesty was brought in by the previous president, Pervez Musharraf, and its removal opens the way to possible prosecution for allies of the current President, Asif Zardari.

Mr Zardari himself faces several pending court cases against him in Pakistan but is protected by presidential immunity.

Before taking office, he spent years in jail after being convicted on corruption charges he says were politically motivated.

Pakistan's main opposition, the Pakistan Muslim League-N of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has called on the president to resign.

Exit list

Mr Mukhtar told local television that his name was on the "exit list" restricting travel and that the federal investigation authorities had said he could not leave the country.

He told Geo TV that he had been planning to visit China for three days on an official visit in connection with the delivery of a warship.

"It was in connection with a corruption case but there is no corruption case against me - it is only an inquiry which is pending against me for the past 12 years."

He said he would "strongly defend" himself in court.

The amnesty was introduced by Mr Musharraf in order to allow Mr Zardari's late wife, Benazir Bhutto, to return to the country and stand for office, with the aim of a possible power-sharing deal with Mr Musharraf.

She returned to Pakistan from abroad after the so-called National Reconciliation Ordinance was signed into law, but was assassinated soon after.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a World Bank assessment that corruption retards investment in Pakistan:

ISLAMABAD: The World Bank finds corruption a serious and growing obstacle to the investment climate in Pakistan besides expressing dissatisfaction over the issue of governance in the country.

In its 128-page draft report on Pakistan’s Investment Climate dated March 16, 2009, the WB said that corruption is largely associated with business-government interface and reveals that the menace is more widespread here as compared to other countries though the bribe rates here are lower. Referring to a survey conducted for the formulation of the draft report, the Bank says that results show that perceptions about corruption in Pakistan are based on actual experiences with paying bribes by the investing firms. It reveals that the firms making investment in Pakistan have to pay bribes even to get water, telephone and electricity connections.

In view of WB clarification to The News Wednesday’s report on power sector and its observation that this correspondent has drawn inferences from the Bank’s draft report, select portions of the report pertaining to governance and corruption are being reproduced to end any confusion being deliberately created about the findings of WB in its draft report.

On the issue of government, the report in its page 64 and para 135, said, “Consistent interpretation and application of rules and regulations is an important reflection of good governance. Discretion or lack of predictability and consistency in the interpretation of rules and regulations (by government officials) is indeed a severe problem in Pakistan. Only 46 per cent of firms in Pakistan believe that the officials interpret rules consistently, compared with 60 per cent in comparator countries.”

On the issue of corruption, the report’s para 136 states, “Corruption, a serious and growing obstacle to the investment climate, is largely associated with business-government interface. Corruption is considered a severe constraint by more than half of all the firms (57 per cent) in Pakistan, significantly higher than the 40 per cent figure from 2002 and much higher than those of the comparator countries, with the exception of Brazil and Bangladesh. It is common for firms in Pakistan to pay informal payments to government officials to get things done. In 2006, three out of every four firms strongly agreed or tended to agree with the preceding statement.”

Para 137 of the report says, “Results show that perception about corruption in Pakistan are based on actual experiences with paying bribes. In other words, the probability that a firm reported corruption as a serious obstacle rises by 29-percentage point (against 57 per cent in the full sample) if the firm experienced at least one incident of bribe. As with perceptions of corruption, bribe incidence in Pakistan has increased 20 per cent over time-from 40 per cent in 2002 to 48 per cent in 2007.”

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a report from the News about Zardari receiving expensive gifts:

ISLAMABAD: President Asif Zardari has set a new record within a year by taking one-third of all the expensive gifts presented to all Pakistani presidents and prime ministers. Of the gifts totalling Rs160 million, Zardari has taken gifts worth Rs62 million during the first year of his presidency.

In his foreign visits so far, Zardari has been given 27 gifts worth Rs62 million,which is one-third of the accumulated cost of the 3,039 gifts, which were given to presidents and prime ministers in three decades.

Zardari is said to have got two BMWs and two foreign manufactured Toyota Jeeps as gift by Libyan leader Colonel Qadafi during his visit to Libya, which he took to his home, after paying a sum of only Rs9.3 million as retention cost.

These shocking figures were produced before the Senate standing committee on cabinet division by the cabinet secretary on Monday during a presentation to its members. Zardari is now richer by Rs50 million within one year in the presidency, without doing a single rupee irregularity as this all was done under the law as he paid 15 per cent of the total cost of two BMWs and two jeeps and retained them.

The other 13 Pakistani presidents and prime ministers, from Gen Ziaul Haq to Gen Musharraf and from Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo to Shaukat Aziz, quietly took 3,039 expensive gifts worth Rs160 million to their homes. The list shows three presidents and two prime ministers — Farooq Leghari, Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf, Asif Zardari, Nawaz Sharif and Shaukat Aziz — took gifts worth Rs150 million out of Rs160 million but Asif Zardari took the largest share within a year of his presidency.

Others including Gen Ziaul Haq, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Rafiq Tarar, and PMs Mohammad Khan Junejo, Benazir Bhutto, Balakh Sher Mazari, Zafarullah Khan Jamali and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain got gifts worth Rs10 million.

This extraordinary list does not contain names of hundreds of ministers, federal secretaries, officials and military officers and generals who, too, received gifts from foreign dignitaries and took them home.

According to an official copy presented to the National Assembly committee members, the record of similar gifts received and retained by two prime ministers, Yousuf Raza Gilani and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was not produced before the committee.

One source said either both the gentlemen did not get a single gift during their tenures or the official record of their gifts had gone missing so it was not produced before the committee members. The source claimed there could be one other possibility: the cabinet division bosses did not produce the record for some other “obvious reason”.

Shaukat Aziz, Gen (retd) Musharraf and Asif Zardari were among the few leaders who got the most expensive gifts. Sources said these gifts were valued at much lower price than their actual price to enable these leaders to take the gifts home without paying a single penny or after paying a meagre part of the cost.

Riaz Haq said...

Following up on Pakistani federal minister Jatoi being busted for prostitution and then released, here's another story of an Lahore-Islamabad madam from PakSpectator blog:

Aunty Candy alias Shama alias Guddi is the most famous “Naika” (Supplier of Prostitutes) is tucked safely in the Kot Lukhpat Jail. She has been remained the top Lahori Girls supplier to the top parties and the to the top individuals in Lahore. She is notorious for her wide and huge network and as she is the oldest and most “classy” lahori whore suppliers, she is said to be a treasure trove of inside tastes of our elite.

She was arrested with heavy heart by the police when she was openly bargaining for heroin and alcohol. She has also got extensive links with the kidnapping racket. She also supplies Pakistani girls to the UAE. It is also said that she didn’t send one of her best girl to a very influential client and then was taught a lesson. But as soon as she was in the jail, pressure started mounting upon the authorities to release her.

As the case is fool proof against her and has also gained media attention, she instead of silently releasing her, she is being rendered VIP treatment in the jail. Aunty Candy is not to be intimidated easily. She is carrying on her business from within the jail.

And yes, she has opened up a beauty saloon for the female inmates of jail. Very soft heart, our aunty candy has got.

Riaz Haq said...

Here is a recent Op Ed in Wall Street Journal critical of Justice Chaudhry:

When U.S. President Barack Obama sharply challenged a recent Supreme Court decision in his State of the Union address, prompting a soto voce rejoinder from Justice Samuel Alito, nobody was concerned that the contretemps would spark a blood feud between the judiciary and the executive. The notion that judges could or would work to undermine a sitting U.S. president is fundamentally alien to America’s constitutional system and political culture. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Pakistan.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, the country’s erstwhile hero, is the leading culprit in an unfolding constitutional drama. It was Mr. Chaudhry’s dismissal by then-President Pervez Musharraf in 2007 that triggered street protests by lawyers and judges under the twin banners of democracy and judicial independence. This effort eventually led to Mr. Musharraf’s resignation in 2008. Yet it is now Mr. Chaudhry himself who is violating those principles, having evidently embarked on a campaign to undermine and perhaps even oust President Asif Ali Zardari.

Any involvement in politics by a sitting judge, not to mention a chief justice, is utterly inconsistent with an independent judiciary’s proper role. What is even worse, Chief Justice Chaudhry has been using the court to advance his anti-Zardari campaign. Two recent court actions are emblematic of this effort.

The first is a decision by the Supreme Court, announced and effective last December, to overturn the “National Reconciliation Ordinance.” The NRO, which was decreed in October 2007, granted amnesty to more than 8,000 members from all political parties who had been accused of corruption in the media and some of whom had pending indictments.

While some of these people are probably corrupt, many are not and, in any case, politically inspired prosecutions have long been a bane of Pakistan’s democracy. The decree is similar to actions taken by many other fledgling democracies, such as post-apartheid South Africa, to promote national reconciliation. It was negotiated with the assistance of the United States and was a key element in Pakistan’s transition from a military dictatorship to democracy.

Chief Justice Chaudhry’s decision to overturn the NRO, opening the door to prosecute President Zardari and all members of his cabinet, was bad enough. But the way he did it was even worse. Much to the dismay of many of the brave lawyers who took to the streets to defend the court’s integrity last year, Mr. Chaudhry’s anti-NRO opinion also blessed a highly troubling article of Pakistan’s Constitution—Article 62. This Article, written in 1985, declared that members of parliament are disqualified from serving if they are not of “good character,” if they violate “Islamic injunctions,” do not practice “teachings and practices, obligatory duties prescribed by Islam,” and if they are not “sagacious, righteous and non-profligate.” For non-Muslims, the Article requires that they have “a good moral reputation.”

Riaz Haq said...

WSJ Op Ed Contd...

Putting aside the fact that Article 62 was promulgated by Pakistan’s then ruling military dictator, General Zia ul-Haq, relying on religion-based standards as “Islamic injunctions” or inherently subjective criteria as “good moral reputation” thrusts the Pakistani Supreme Court into an essentially religious domain, not unlike Iranian Sharia-based courts. This behavior is profoundly ill-suited for any secular court. While Article 62 was not formally repealed, it was discredited and in effect, a dead letter. The fact that the petitioner in the NRO case sought only to challenge the decree based on the nondiscrimination clause of the Pakistani Constitution and did not mention Article 62 makes the court’s invocation of it even more repugnant. Meanwhile, the decision’s lengthy recitations of religious literature and poetry, rather than reliance on legal precedent, further pulls the judiciary from its proper constitutional moorings.

The second anti-Zardari effort occurred just a few days ago, when the court blocked a slate of the president’s judicial appointments. The court’s three-Justice panel justified the move by alleging the president failed to “consult” with Mr. Chaudhry. This constitutional excuse has never been used before.

It is well-known in Islamabad that Mr. Zardari’s real sin was political, as he dared to appoint people unacceptable to the chief justice. Since consultation is not approval, Mr. Chaudhry’s position appears to be legally untenable. Yet Mr. Zardari, faced with demonstrations and media attacks, let Mr. Chaudhry choose a Supreme Court justice.

There is no doubt that the chief justice is more popular these days than the president, who has been weakened by the split in the political coalition which brought down Mr. Musharraf. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is now a leading opponent of the regime. There is a strong sense among the Pakistani elites that Justice Chaudhry has become Mr. Sharif’s key ally.

The fact that Mr. Chaudhry was a victim of an improper effort by former President Musharraf to replace him with a more pliant judge makes his current posture all the more deplorable. His conduct has led some of his erstwhile allies to criticize him and speak of the danger to democracy posted by judicial meddling in politics. The stakes are stark indeed. If Mr. Chaudhry succeeds in ousting Mr. Zardari, Pakistan’s fledgling democracy would be undermined and the judiciary’s own legitimacy would be irrevocably damaged. Rule by unaccountable judges is no better than rule by the generals.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a report in the Nation about a Supreme Court challenge on the veracity of politcians' assets declaration:

ISLAMABAD – The assets declared by the members of the Parliament (MPs) to Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) were challenged in the Supreme Court here on Friday.
The petitioner, Advocate Sikandar Hayat Khan, argued that the assets declared by the MPs were not correct. The application was filed under Article 184/3 of the Constitution.
The applicant pleaded that accurate estimation of their assets should be undertaken while an inquiry should be conducted regarding others assets named after their (MPs) families, praying that appropriate direction may be issued to the Chairman FBR to protect national kitty.
“Through print and electronic media, an impression has been created that certain politicians, their wives and dependent children have amassed huge assets which require due scrutiny by tax authorities, who alone have the expertise to clarify the impression in the public interest,” petition stated. From such newspaper reports including electronic media broadcasts, it seems that assets amassed by politicians, their wives and dependent children were either not subjected to scrutiny by various tax jurisdictions or are highly understated, it added.
“I am a taxpayer along with others in Pakistan and it is in public interest that a scrutiny be carried out by various tax jurisdictions of Pakistan regarding the amassing of assets by politicians, their wives and dependent children in the interest of justice.
That is also desirable to have a correct valuation of the amassed assets of the politicians, their wives and dependent children, as in its absence, the burden of existing tax payers is increased because they are subjected to higher rates of taxation with a view to filling the gap between what they pay and what they ought to be paying.
“Under the tax jurisdiction, based on tax treaties, we can call for any information regarding tax matters from foreign tax jurisdiction to which they are a party and inconsequence of which they are obliged to comply with our request. In the past such information was called by me in respect of certain cases and was provided without any hesitation by the contracting states subject to Agreements for Avoidance of Tax Evasion, the applicant maintained.”
It is relevant to mention here that the applicant is also a former senior most officer of the Income Tax Group on National basis.