M A I N   N E W S

Pak govt finds way to check army, judiciary
Makes it mandatory for judges, military officials to declare their assets
Afzal Khan in Islamabad

The Pakistan government, pushed on the backfoot by the army and the Supreme Court on Memogate, has hit back by making it mandatory for all civil servants, judges and military officials to declare their assets. Parliamentarians are already required to do so. The cabinet has approved an amendment to this effect in a draft bill.

A judicial commission appointed by the Supreme Court and a Parliamentary panel, packed with members of the ruling coalition, are both investigating ‘Memogate’ even as President Zardari has refused to make any submission to the judicial commission. Yesterday, he said he would abide by the verdict of the Parliamentary panel.

In a country with one of the lowest tax:GDP ratios in the world, tackling corruption has been confined to political speeches. Former military ruler Pervez Musharraf had, however, set up an Accountability Bureau which was used more to intimidate rival politicians. Nor did Musharraf , who had declared ownership of as many as eight houses and sale proceeds from a 50-acre plot given by the government, follow up with subsequent declarations.

Prime Minister Yousaf Reza Gilani and his spouse, own neither a house nor a car and till 2010, did not have a ‘Tax Number’ (PAN card in India) either. Nor did their three sons have a number, indicating that they presumably were not paying any tax. The Prime Minister, finally, did pay his taxes last year, but it was a ridiculously low amount of Pakistani Rs 7,600, much less than what an ordinary government employee pays here.

Even main opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, who comes from one of the richest families and lives in an estate spread over several thousand acres near Lahore, paid only Rs 5,000 as tax in 2008 on his return from exile. Last year the figure rose to Rs 2.5 million while his brother and the Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif paid double that amount. The government move to rein in the military and judiciary came after several ministers complained that while politicians were being accused of corruption, bureaucrats and judges were amassing wealth and yet escaping scrutiny and media glare.

All lawmakers and ministers are required to file annual returns to the Election Commission on assets and liabilities. In reality, however, the Commission does not have any agency or mechanism to scrutinise the returns.





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