“The thing that makes systemic oppression so difficult to discuss is that when you do, you have to acknowledge your role in it. Often this means having to admit that you are part of the problem. It is not a comfortable experience when you learn that you further or benefit from the oppression of others.” – Kevin A. Patterson There is much on-going debate about the need for continuing to grant exclusive privilege to a few. Do we ever think about what is at the core of this crafty venture woven in such wonderful words, given such elevating symbolism, but always hiding the devilish intent which motivates the endeavour? A motion has been moved in the national assembly by an opposition party that the privilege of the members has been breached by the public disclosure of their alleged crimes by an officer of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). What is this privilege that they are talking about, and how is it that they consider it their absolute right in supersession of the right of the people of Pakistan to know the truth? The right to information is a fundamental right which is guaranteed by the constitution. This is further substantiated by the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017. Understandably, there is no law that curbs the flow of this information to the people. Yet, it has been effectively blocked in the past through administrative strangulation of the institutions which are privy to the information concerning the misdeeds of the ruling elite encompassing legislators, bureaucrats and other government functionaries and associates. NAB has been under uninterrupted assault by all those who are being probed. This is so because NAB is actually trying to do some substantive work now across aisles and divisions which was not the case during their tenure when the bureau had been reduced to just catering to optics Article 66 defines the privileges of members of the Parliament: “Subject to the Constitution and the rules of procedure of the Parliament, there shall be freedom of speech in the Parliament and no member shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in the Parliament, and no person shall be so liable in respect of the publication by or under the authority of the Parliament of any report, paper, votes or proceedings”. In other words, the legislators have given themselves carte blanche of immunity for anything that they would deem fit to say on the floor of the Parliament irrespective of whether it is true or otherwise. Using the same privilege, they have misused the house to hurl abuse and invectives at the NAB and other state institutions which are engaged in investigating numerous cases of corruption and misconduct against some of them. The recent noise is being raised in condemnation of making some of this information public by the NAB. This is a weird definition of privilege which guarantees absolute immunity to the corrupt, but denies a similar right to the state institutions to make their points of view public under circumstances created unnecessarily by those who are being investigated. This paradox has been aptly captured by DaShanne Stokes: “Privilege is when you contribute to the oppression of others and then claim that you are the one being discriminated against”. Notwithstanding the credentials of the concerned NAB official who made startling disclosures in his television interactions, he did it on behalf of a state institution. If he had not done it, someone else may have been tasked which is not the point that should be debated. What is being criticised is the bureau’s right to make a public statement regarding the misdemeanours of some leading political players including the current leader of the opposition who is in NAB custody, but often uses the floor of the parliament to launch scathing attacks on the bureau as also its alleged complicity with the government in undertaking selective accountability. The ideal situation would be that a state institution is not forced to take recourse to extreme measures to put its point of view across from a public platform. In the instant case, this was necessitated because, for a considerable time now, NAB has been under uninterrupted assault by all those who are being probed. This is so because NAB is actually trying to do some substantive work now across aisles and divisions which was not the case during their tenure when the bureau had been reduced to just catering to optics. In fact, over ten years of the previous two ‘democratic’ governments, not a single legislator was prosecuted. Now is different. The bureau is actually making an effort to unearth and punish corruption. The need is to make it more effective and empowered as also increase its capacity and competence to successfully conclude investigations into difficult white-collar crimes. The principal responsibility for this rests with the legislature that should adopt measures to turn the bureau into a transparent, accountable, skilful and proficient institution. But that is not the case. The whole approach of the legislators is privilege-centred, and not accountability-centred. This is opposed to what is being done in other countries of the world where accountability mechanisms are being further developed and strengthened to cleanse the system of corruption which has been a critical factor contributing to increasing poverty and stymieing development in multiple fields. Instead of emulating the success stories of countries where corruption has been successfully addressed, we are trying to exploit some inane technicalities to reverse the process with the sole intention that the accused may not be punished for their numerous crimes and transgressions. Let’s also not forget that it is the same corruption syndrome of the rulers which has often provoked undemocratic interventions in the past. Democracy cannot flourish unless it is rendered transparent and accountable both in terms of the system and its managers, be they politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats, or others associated with the government. A corrupt dispensation will be a burden on the state rendering it weak with the people remaining at the mercy of a coterie of looters and plunderers for their two measly morsels a day. The state and the people have suffered enough of that already. By all accounts, if this malady is not addressed urgently, the state will continue to be rendered more vulnerable and the people more impoverished, more marginalised. It is not the privilege of the ruling elite which is important. What is paramount is that the higher position a person holds, the more accountable he or she should be. Let’s bury the concept of unchallengeable privilege as deep as we can so the state could be strong and the people could garner hope for a future different from what they have endured for decades. The ultimate privilege, if at all, is of the people of this land to know what has been done to them by the merchants of loot and plunder. The floor of the parliament should be the last place for the alleged criminals to wage a battle for cleansing them of their myriad crimes. The writer is a political and security strategist, and heads the Regional Peace Institute — an Islamabad-based think-tank. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @RaoofHasan Published in Daily Times, November 13th 2018.