Pakistani Chief Judge's Anti-Corruption Campaign

Led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, the judges of Pakistan Supreme Court have overturned former President Musharraf's amnesty order for 8000 top politicians, including current President Asif Ali Zardari, and declared jihad against corruption at the highest levels of government.

Pakistani judiciary's battle against rampant corruption has recently escalated with the jailing of a top serving police official at the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), and the ultimatum to the anti-corruption chief of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to reopen domestic and international corruption cases against the beneficiaries of the NRO amnesty, or be prepared to go to jail.

Some critics of the Supreme Court actions see the top court's recent orders against top officials as abuse of power by Mr. Iftikhar Chaudhry, the head of the unelected and independent judiciary in Pakistan. They accuse the Chaudhry court of engaging in unwarranted judicial activism designed to usurp the powers of the elected legislature and executive branches.

Unfortunately, Pakistan continues to have the dubious distinction of being among the 50 most corrupt countries on a list of 180 nations ranked by Transparency International in 2009. Under the current PPP government, Pakistan has slipped 5 places to being 42nd most corrupt from 47th last year. By contrast, India is ranked much better as the 84th most corrupt country.

While I have been critical of some of Justice Chaudhry's behavior in the past, I have now concluded that judicial activism to fight high-level corruption is necessary, at least in the near term. However, I do expect that there will be both positive and negative consequences of the judiciary-led war on corruption in Pakistan.

The most likely upside to come from the court actions is that the politicians and bureaucrats will be forced to think twice before they demand to be paid off in exchange for illegal favors. The activist top court judges will certainly help reduce the current high levels of corruption among the top leaders, and help set a better tone for their underlings in positions of power.

The negative consequences of the court actions include a gross imbalance of power and a continuing institutional confrontation between the judicial and executive branches of government. An extended struggle may prove detrimental to better governance, and possibly open the way for another military intervention in the country.

Lt us hope that good sense will prevail to ensure that long-term positives will significantly outweigh the short-term negative consequences of the powerful judges' war on deep-rooted and highly corrosive corruption in Pakistan.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Justice Chaudhry's Address to New York Bar

Incompetence and Corruption in Pakistan

Zardari Corruption Probe

NRO Amnesty Order Overturned

Transparency International Rankings 2009


Riaz Haq said…
Here's a BBC report about alarm over rising corruption in India:

A group of eminent Indians says they are "alarmed" by the rising corruption which is "corroding the fabric" of the nation.

In an 'open letter', they have expressed concern about "widespread governance deficit almost in every sphere of national activity".

The group includes businessman Azim Premji and ex-central bank governor Bimal Jalan.

A number of corruption scandals have shaken India in recent months.

"Possibly, the biggest issue corroding the fabric of our nation is corruption. This malaise needs to be tackled with a sense of urgency, determination and on a war footing," the group wrote in an 'open letter to our leaders'.

The letter said that independent anti-corruption bodies should be set up "speedily".

The Congress party-led government is battling allegations of corruption over the allocation of telecom licences - why so-called 2G spectrum phone licences were sold in 2008 for a fraction of their value, costing the government $37bn (£23bn) in lost revenue, according to the national auditor.

Another high-profile inquiry is continuing into claims that organisers of the Delhi Commonwealth Games swindled millions of dollars from the October event.


Congress party president Sonia Gandhi said recently that corruption was a disease in India.

The group wrote that it was also "alarmed at the widespread governance deficit most in every sphere of national activity covering government, business and institutions".

"Widespread discretionary decision making have been routinely subjected to extraneous influences.

"The topmost responsibility of those at the helm of the nation's affairs must be to urgently restore the self-confidence and self-belief of Indians in themselves and in the State as well as in Indian business and public institutions which touch the lives of every Indian."

A recent report by US-based group Global Financial Integrity said the illegal flight of capital through tax evasion, crime and corruption had widened inequality in India.

Many also accuse governments and politicians of corruption in India.
Riaz Haq said…
Here's a WSJ report on judicial activism in Pakistan under CJ Chaudhry:

..A new report by the International Commission of Jurists, a Geneva-based nongovernment organization of judges and lawyers, suggests his legacy might be more complicated.

The report, released this month and based on a field trip to Pakistan last fall, paints a picture of a judiciary under Mr. Chaudhry that is exercising unusually wide-ranging powers.
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Pakistan’s judiciary has, during Mr. Chaudhry’s tenure as chief justice, stepped into areas normally reserved for a nation’s government, raising concerns over the balance of power, the report said.

It noted that judges in Pakistan are increasingly initiating court proceedings on issues – as opposed to hearing cases brought by plaintiffs.

The courts often launch these so-called “suo moto” cases in instances where the government has failed to take action. The report said in some cases this helps to protect the rule of law.

It cited an example last year when paramilitary forces were caught on video shooting dead a teenager who was pleading for his life. The Supreme Court ordered senior paramilitary officers removed from their posts within three days and told a state prosecutor to launch an investigation.

But in other cases Mr. Chaudhry appears to arbitrarily initiate “suo moto” proceedings based on articles in Pakistani newspapers, the report said. “This introduces a certain element of chance to the practice which is hardly compatible with the rule of law.”

A notable example of this, not contained in the ICJ report, involves Atiqa Odho, a Pakistani television actor who was allegedly detained last year at Karachi airport with liquor in her luggage but later released without charges. (Alcohol is illegal in Pakistan.)

Mr. Chaudhry, on reading media reports, ordered authorities to register a case against Ms. Odho, which they did. A court is yet to rule in the case. Attempts to reach Mr. Chaudhry were not successful.

In another well-known example, the Supreme Court tried to rule on the price of sugar – a matter usually left to government or market forces.

Mr. Chaudhry has fought in recent years to weaken the role of Parliament in appointing judges, the report noted. Under Pakistan’s constitution, a judicial commission, including the chief justice, nominates judges. But a parliamentary committee has the right to reject or confirm the nominations.

Last year, the Supreme Court overturned the committee’s decision to reject the appointment of a number of high court judges whom the judicial commission had recommended.

The report found the “authority of the Parliamentary Committee was reduced drastically,” by that judgment.

The authors nodded to concerns about the failure of governance in Pakistan. But it also pointed out the pitfalls of a judiciary trying to fill the role of an administration.

“Parliament and Government are weak, which leads to the Supreme Court filling the gap by intervening in matters germane to the administration,” the report said. “This occurs to the extent that the Supreme Court even…intervenes to strengthen its own and particularly the power of the Chief Justice as far as the appointment of judges is concerned. A concern in respect of the balance of powers thereby arises.”

The report did not get into an ongoing struggle between the judiciary and the government of President Asif Ali Zardari.....

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