Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Daily Times Editorial April 12, 2012

PM’s son on notice

The whiff of scandal has never been far from the surface since this government came to power four years ago. Even if one discounts the ravings of motivated vested interests only concerned with bringing this government down by hook or by crook, the fact remains that the speculative hearsay about scandals bubbling just below the surface has by now acquired the status of urban legend. In the obtaining circumstances, most of these issues seem sooner or later to find their way to the Supreme Court (SC). Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry’s remarks the other day seemed to reflect this growing trend when he said that that the SC should not be asked to pronounce on each and every thing, particularly issues that properly belong in the political sphere and should therefore be dealt with within the realm of politics. The problem of course is that the system of governance is by now so corroded that the SC as the final destination and arbiter on most issues has become all but inevitable.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s son Ali Musa Gilani has been dragged into the case before the SC concerning the Rs 7 billion Ephedrine scam. The drug is used for making medicines, but unfortunately also finds use by drug addicts. That is why there is an international regime to control the import and utilisation of Ephedrine through quotas, etc. The case involves the allowance of an above quota allocation of Ephedrine imports to two drug companies, allegedly at the behest of Ali Musa Gilani, whose name cropped up because a gentleman called Tauqeer Ahmed Khan, who passes himself off as the junior Gilani’s private secretary, is alleged to have been instrumental in getting these firms the undue quotas, which they allegedly misused to sell the drug illegally in the local market. To add to the conundrum, the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) high ups investigating the affair are said to have been ‘leaned’ on allegedly by the prime minister’s Principal Secretary Khushnood Lashari, to go easy and get Ali Musa Gilani off the hook. That is the thrust of the affidavit filed in the SC by the ANF investigating officer, who claims he and his superiors, not to mention his investigation team key members, were transferred when he refused to bow before the ‘request’. Those transfers have been rescinded by the SC. Of course there is no room for rushing to judgement, especially since the matter is sub judice, but the allegations and accusations certainly represent a troubling development.
The issue was apparently raised in the National Assembly in January this year, and the then health minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin had set up a fact-finding committee to investigate. Unfortunately, the findings of that committee have yet to be placed on the record of the house. The three-member SC bench headed by the Chief Justice hearing the case has exercised due prudence and restraint in issuing notices to all concerned parties, including Ali Musa Gilani, and its order enjoins a fair hearing to both Gilani junior and Lashari should they choose to depose before the court. While the court is proceeding in a judicious manner, the case has become the cause of banner headlines and much airtime on the media. There is a considerable body of opinion in the country that is pre-disposed to believing the worst about this government and its leaders. That may be preconceived bias or prejudice dictated by political likes and dislikes. But that pre-disposition to believe the worst about any and everything involving the government is not the way justice can be done or dispensed. If the court’s proceedings find any truth in the allegations (including the serious accusations by the ANF), the law must of course take its course, irrespective of the individuals involved, no matter how high and mighty. On the other hand, due process requires that they receive full opportunity to defend themselves and clear their name. Unfortunately, perceptions are likely to be even more skewed after the revelation that the ANF was too late in asking for the names of Ali Musa Gilani and Lashari to be placed on the Exit Control List, and Ali Musa has left the country, for a pre-planned tour according to his staff. That may be happenstance, but the prime minister should ensure tat his son appears duly before the court after his return. Family members’ scandals have been known to bring down many a ruler. It is therefore in the interests of the government and all those accused of involvement to cooperate with the investigation and court proceedings.

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