President Asif Ali Zardari, soon after he landed in the magnificent palace located behind the Parliament, proceeded to Saudi Arabia to perform Umra. True to the tradition of Pakistani rulers he took a bunch of 250 associates along with him who were housed in top class hotels in the vicinity of holy places. This was done at a cost of Rs 24.9 million. What followed was drastically different from past practice of rulers. The president, in the third week of January deposited this amount into national exchequer out of his personal resources.
Barring early years of Pakistan, this act of the sitting president can safely be termed as unprecedented. Muhammad Ali Jinnah was meticulously honest for not financing his personal requirements from the exchequer. So was Liaquat Ali Khan. It is said that Chaudhry Muhammad Ali, as former PM, accepted Rs 18 (or 28) thousands for treatment abroad but subsequently returned the amount. No such incidence has been reported since then.
A section of our press has, while praising this act of the President, suggested that to save national pecuniary resources from onslaught of future heads of state and government, a law should be enacted stipulating that henceforth such pious deeds would not be done at the cost of public money. And it is here that one is reminded of extreme national obsession for "future tense." Each new drone-attack is followed by dauntless pledges that no such trespass would be tolerated in the future. Each suicide attack, causing bloodshed of scores of innocent citizens is accompanied by boisterous claims of the people at the helm of affairs that no such act of barbarity would be forgiven in future. Even kids ridicule such meaningless pronouncements with guffaws. Nobody takes them seriously. It appears that the role of majestic buildings erected on constitution Avenue by spending billions of hard-earned rupees is as "effective" as was that of the splendid Red Fort of Delhi in the years preceding 1857.
The million dollars question is: will an enactment with prospective effect be efficacious? The famous American historian Barbara Tuchman had defined wisdom as an "exercise of judgement acting on, 1) Past experience, 2) Common sense and 3) Available information." All three ingredients of wisdom amply indicate that our law-makers in general, and rulers in particular, have been, and will keep on, circumventing, disregarding and bulldozing the regulations which are not compatible with their sweet will.
Common sense demands that if President Zardari has rectified a past irregularity, Why can not others do the same? Mir Zafrullah Khan Jamali, the then Prime Minister, has drained on the exchequer to the tune of Rs. 16.7 million to perform Umra along with his cronies. Ch Shujaat Hussain, as Prime Minister, deprived the treasury of Rs 15.2 million when he led a large contingent to Holy Places. When Shaukat Aziz, our great plastic PM, occupied the throne with all his buffoonery, he too followed the godly practice of performing the Umra at State expense. The great "economist" premier wrung "only" Rs 18.7 million from treasury of the Islamic Republic. He claimed later on, that he had spent this amount out of his personal Kitty but there is no evidence to prove this claim truthful. This poor nation, the majority of which has no access even to potable water, not to speak of comforts, has a right to ask as to why these former prime ministers do not follow the example set by President Zardari. It is a simple matter of "now or never." Government, which claims to be a people's government, must ordain these extremely wealthy persons to pay the extorted public money back to the exchequer. Let the Ministry of Finance ask them. Let the Parliament pass a resolution to that effect, or prime minister office direct these defaulters to avoid further delay in doing what the president has already done.
But if somebody thinks that the example set by President Zardari will save the exchequer from plunders in future, it is a wishful thinking unless the recoveries are made retrospectively. Tomorrow never comes. It has never come at least in this wretched country. Let Mir Zafrullah Jamali and Ch Shujaat follows the president. As for as the plastic PM Shaukat Aziz is concerned, his pecuniary lawlessness may be condoned on compassionate ground. The poor soul could not afford even an economy class air passage to Pakistan on the sad demise of his father in law! Let someone venture to draw attention of Maulana Edhi to make his two ends meet.
This brings us to another paradox. Politicians, especially public representatives, sooner or later, do get exposed. Whether it is a written off loan of enormous magnitude or a massive tax evasion, there is always a hue and cry in the parliament and consequently in the domestic and international press. But what about the wolves disguised as sheep in the herd known as bureaucracy? What about the public servants, whatever is colour of their attires, who have gained illegitimate capital out of their positions? A foreign journalist once, while writing in one of English dailies of Pakistan, had compared the jet set living of one such (retd) public servant with that of Latin American despots! The stories of 64 plots and 14 palaces are not very old. If accountability is not to be staged as mere source of entertainment for the fun-starved public, it has to be effected with retrospective effect and no holy bull is to be exempted.
Gar yih naheen to baba / Phir sab kahanian hain!