INTERVIEW: ‘Democracy can be strengthened by good and honest governance’ –Aitzaz Ahsan

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    A corrupt government cannot restrain other institutions from encroaching over its territory

     

     

     

    Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan is a well respected barrister, veteran activist-politician, constitutional theorist and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate of Pakistan.

    He has been a member of Pakistan Peoples Party since 1975 and has enjoyed various ministerial portfolios, including that of the Interior Minister and the Minister for Law, Justice and Human Rights. He was elected to Senate in 2012. He has also served as the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan. Aitzaz Ahsan was also the de facto leader of the popular Lawyers’ Movement which led to the restoration of an independent judiciary in Pakistan, during which he was jailed several times.

    The DNA team recently got a chance to sit with this illustrious lawyer and political intellectual and asked him about how and why the government was ceding its position to other institutions and how democracy in Pakistan could be strengthened.

    Here are some excerpts from the interview:

     

    DNA: Are you satisfied with the way the government is conducting its business?

    Aitzaz Ahsan: The conduct of Nawaz Sharif’s government at both federal and provincial level is undermining democracy. The harsh and brutal treatment of the blind people, its political opponents, nurses, doctors, clerks is hurting the constitutional and democratic setup. Even more dangerous is the manner in which mega projects have been initiated and the endemic corruption in the system.

    The PM has set up a cover up to inquire into the Nandipur project. The PML-N knows how to get favourable decisions and findings in mega scams like the Cooperatives Scandal of 1992 during their tenure in power. They know how to make sure such issues are resolved in their favour. No one can thus accept their inquiry into Nandipur scam

    The construction of LNG terminal to import gas has been done without any price adjustment formula. The owner of the project is being paid $272,000 per day, even on the days when no gas is imported. Nandipur project which should have cost around Rs23bn now costs Rs87 billion. This cost has equal amount of cuts and kickbacks. Munawar Baseer, former MD of PEPCO and CEO & MD of SSGC, says that the Sharifs have siphoned of Rs17 billion from the project.

    The Metro bus project which cost Rs45 billion was built without calling for bids. There must be kickbacks involved because for such a mega project, this is not the way to go. Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park in Bahawalpur is costing the nation Rs1 billion per megawatt for a total of 900MW. Presently the project is producing only 12MW per day. Again the apprehension is that the project could be a front for corruption.

    The PM has set up a cover up to inquire into the Nandipur project. The PML-N knows how to get favourable decisions and findings in mega scams like the Cooperatives Scandal of 1992 during their tenure in power. They know how to make sure such issues are resolved in their favour. No one can thus accept their inquiry into Nandipur scam.

    DNA: What do you think is the best way to move forward to strengthen democracy?

    AA: Democracy in the country can be strengthened by good and honest governance. Allegations of siphoning of billions of rupees in mega projects like Nandipur power project, Metro bus and Solar Park will continue to cloud democratic environment. As long as a corrupt government is in power, democracy will continue to remain weak. The only way forward is to establish an honest and good government that is accountable for what is goes on under its nose.

    DNA: Military has invaded political space. It is not good for both the political dispensation and democracy. What is, in your point of view, the way out?

    AA: The enhancement in the space available to the military establishment is because of corruption of the Sharif government. If a government continues to indulge in mega corruption, it cannot restrain other institutions from encroaching over its territory. If you are siphoning commissions and kickbacks, your moral authority is degraded and you cannot stand your ground. The Sharif brothers have to decide whether they will be a strong and effective government or continue in their corrupt designs and survive as a weak pushover administration.

    DNA: Nawaz Sharif said he was baffled by the statements of Asif Ali Zardari. Do you think the PM was justified considering PPP’s supportive behaviour over the years?

    AA: Mian Nawaz Sharif’s disappointment with the statement of Asif Ali Zardari is misplaced as Asif Zardari has been helping and supporting Mian sb all through his tenure. He did so even at the cost of losing a large vote bank of PPP’s loyalists in Punjab. It makes no sense to target PPP, or any other party for that matter, because political victimisation is not the solution.

    We are disappointed in the slow and lethargic implementation of the NAP. Nothing is being done under it. Defunct organisations have a free play and no action has been taken on any of the 20 points agreed under the NAP. Even after Thursday’s meeting no concrete step has been taken or pointed out. Only vague declarations have been made

    DNA: With Asif Zardari’s latest statements, does it mean politics of reconciliation is not working anymore?

    AA: The PPP will not protect or defend any credible allegations of corruption against any leader but when the accountability is all one sided, certain reservations do arise. There is no effort to bring to account the Sharif brothers despite the Supreme Court judgment of the Asghar Khan case in which the SC had directed the prosecution of the PM for taking large sum of money to rig the 1990 elections. This judgment was given in 2013 yet no action has been taken on it for two years. The politics of reconciliation works only when both parties agree to a give and take formula. There is no other way to make it work.

    DNA: What do you think about the slow implementation of NAP?

    AA: We are disappointed in the slow and lethargic implementation of the NAP. Nothing is being done under it. Defunct organisations have a free play and no action has been taken on any of the 20 points agreed under the NAP. Even after Thursday’s meeting no concrete step has been taken or pointed out. Only vague declarations have been made, which of course are not enough if the government is serious in performing its duties and fulfilling the promises it made to the survivors of thousands of those that died or got injured in terror attacks over the past more than a decade.

    DNA: Keeping all of the above in mind, what is PPP’s policy going to be while contesting LG polls?

    AA: The PPP will contest LG polls under its own symbol and banner. Though there is every chance that the party may come up with a seat adjustment formula with some other party, it will not enter into an official alliance with any other party.

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