NLC Scam & Accountability Process
Khalid A. Khokhar
While corruption and non-conformity of the societal order is an outcome of bad governance and nonfunctioning of government institutions, it leaves enough space for some crafty opportunists to amass large fortune. Advanced democracies like the UK, USA, Canada and Australia have strong media and criminal justice systems to combat corruption.
But the developing World political and civil institutions are weaker, and in effect license corruption with impunity. However, as a part of the on-going cleansing drive initiated by the electronic media to unearth unholy doing 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 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, Hajj 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 Logistic Cell (NLC) scandal. Better late, then never. Pakistan Military has been already censured by the media on the dilly-dallying tactics adopted in the fulfillment 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 the scandal up, 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 Logistic Cell (NLC) scam, it was the audit of accounts of NLC, a subsidiary of Planning Commission that unearthed the mega scam. Established in August 1978, 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 Rs 4.3 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 Rs 9.3 billion in loans in 2011 and showed a net profit of Rs 3 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 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 wizards and experts. The credibility of the evidence gathered through the SoE will determine the next course of action by the Army. On the contrary, the obstructionists and the anti-state element are creating misperceptions about the good offices of armed forces. Last year, for example, the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) busted Sukna land scam – a huge source of corruption in the defence establishment from the manipulation of land records and irregularities in land deals with the connivance of defence and civilian officials to benefit unscrupulous builders and politicians, led to the sensational dismissal of former Military Secretary Lt Gen Avadesh Prakash. However, it was being opined that had the case involved Pakistan Army officers, it would have been hushed up to save the sacred cow. Nonetheless, by court-martialing the accused officers, the army has dispelled all the bickering and speculations engulfing the country. An official of Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) categorically stated that the NLC case will be conducted strictly in accordance with due process of law and those proven guilty of wrong doings will be brought to justice.
Pakistani society is very complex, competitive and contradictory in its demands upon the individuals. There is often a wide gap between what is taught and approved at home, in the mosque and at school and what is actually expected in the world. There were good old times when uniformed men and civil bureaucracy would aspire for higher positions for dignity and honour and earn an honest living. The rapid changes in the material culture set new standards. The onslaught of an environment of corruption has swiftly eroded the Islamic values of honesty and integrity. As the deep-seated culture of corruption has gnawed at the innards of Pakistani courteousness, it has also penetrated inside the iron-clad defenses of the Pakistan armed forces. Resultantly, a few, at the very top, have faltered and fallen prey to greed. What are the long term implications of such a culture of corruption and what extent will it impact the national security of a nation challenged with plethora of issues ranging from personal disintegration to political infightings? To what extent has much-admired image of Pakistan’s armed forces – as a highly disciplined, honest, responsible and professional body turned into abyss? The defenders of Pakistan’s frontiers take pride in boasting that the service in Pakistan armed forces is not merely a job, but it is a profession that demands sacrifice of their lives for the sake of their motherland. It is true that the officer cadre is the very soul of an army and mainspring of the whole mechanism. Any harm to them will invariably inflict a heavy blow to the sovereignty of the country. If we as civilians do not respect the institution of military, we ought not to complain if we are not adequately defended from our adversaries in the war. And, if we really want to condemn corruption, then the civil society will have to relegate the recognition of corruption, only to be followed by the military culture – inviting a cultural change in the society.
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.