Courting Contempt

All vital organs of state that stand in the way of this government’s insatiable loot and pillage or pose a threat to its unconscionable and pernicious grasp on power are in grave peril. The wake of destruction this lot have left behind in their four-and-a-half year rule is devastating: the Higher Education Commission, responsible for exposing fake university degrees of dozens of members of parliament leading to their disqualification, stands disbanded to pave the way for the illiterate to rule over the clueless.
FIA and Nab, responsible for investigating and prosecuting instances of corruption stand de-fanged and neutered, as a consequence of which not a single corruption case has been filed against any public official despite this government’s global notoriety as the most corrupt in the country’s history and a free-for-all is not only allowed but encouraged.
All traces of local government have been buried many fathoms in the permeating rot by the government’s obstinate refusal to hold local government elections, despite courts orders to this effect. Instead, handpicked and pliant civil servants and cronies have been appointed to run local government affairs with no semblance of financial accountability.
Even parliament has not been spared: througSuprh multiple amendments to the constitution, its fate has been vested not in the leader of the house, but with the party leader, irrespective of the fact that the man visibly struggles to string together just three coherent intelligible sentences, even in Sindhi! Parliamentary resolutions are routinely overruled by cabinet, as in the instance of reopening the Nato supply route. So much for the much ballyhooed parliamentary supremacy!
The picture turns from bleak to downright catastrophic when you factor in the mind boggling fact that highly profitable state institutions like PIA, PTCL, Pakistan Steel and Pakistan Railways, which no one ever imagined could ever incur losses, have been made to comprehensively implode on themselves to satisfy the gluttonous appetites of those wielding power.
The government has now turned its sights on the biggest thorn in their sides: the judiciary. The thinking in the corridors of power appears to be that these purveyors of constitutional jurisprudence are getting too big for their boots. First they go and declare the NRO illegal and order the reopening of the Swiss cases against Zardari, and then they send packing an elected prime minister for refusing to follow their orders. They need to be shown who is boss!
So we now have a draft of a constitutional amendment on contempt of court provisions, already hurriedly passed by cabinet and due to be presented in parliament soon, before another prime minister bites the dust, potentially as early as July 12, when the Raja from Rawalpindi must tell the Supreme Court whether or not he intends to write the letter to the Swiss authorities.
It is a desperate attempt to save him from the fate his predecessor could not escape. It also bears out the government’s poorly concealed resolve to bringing the judiciary to heel to establish a dictatorship of the executive.
The proposed amendment reportedly provides that all actions taken by higher-ranked government functionaries in the performance of their duties of office shall no longer be liable to be called into question by any court as contempt of court. But what if a court orders a holder of public office to perform a certain act, as was the case in the NRO ruling? Does disobeying a direct order from the Supreme Court, ridiculing the court and casting doubts on the judges’ integrity fall under the definition of the discharge of official duties?
Besides, one article of the constitution cannot give the prime minister immunity from his obligations arising from another article. That would throw up an anomaly which only the Supreme Court would have the authority to address by interpreting the constitution.
Article 190 of the constitution mandates that “All executive and judicial authorities throughout Pakistan shall act in aid of the Supreme Court.” If they fail to do so, then they are liable to answer contempt of court charges under Article 204. As such, the new proposed amendment appears to be in conflict with Articles 190 and 204.
The proposed amendment amounts to not just legalising but, in effect, encouraging contempt of court and flies in the face of the concept of an independent and effective judicial system provided for in the Objectives Resolution.
It is, therefore, in diametric opposition to the spirit of the constitution. How can the judiciary be independent and effective when everyone from the president and prime minister to cabinet members, governors and chief ministers are trying to browbeat it into submission?
The proposed amendment even gives ordinary citizens the authority to rake muck against senior judges without fear of being prosecuted for contempt of court, provided they supply evidence to back up their allegations.
There is already a suitable venue to address complaints against judges; the judicial council. There is no need to make a mockery of the whole judicial system by putting judges on public trial in the media. It will make a ridiculous spectacle of an institution which presently stands as our only line of defence against an administration hell bent on destroying the country.
In the Sindh High Court Bar Association Case 2009, the Supreme Court ruled: “It is the duty of the judiciary to determine the legality of executive action and the validity of legislation passed by the Legislature.” As such, if passed by parliament, this amendment would be subject to judicial review under Articles 184 (3) and 199 of the constitution.
The course this government is following seems designed to deliberately induce a clash between parliament and the judiciary, irrespective of the damage the system is likely to sustain, as long as their interests and those of their gora sahibs are served.
The Supreme Court’s NRO ruling and its order in the contempt of court case against Gilani leave very little wiggle room. If the Raja from Rawalpindi wants to stay in the Prime Minister’s House long enough to make a dent in the mattress, he will have to do some letter writing.
But his position is exceedingly precarious: if he writes the letter, his own party will turn on him. If he does not, he is bound to follow in Gilani’s footsteps. Either way, the furniture in the PM House is unlikely to suffer much indentation due to him.
Some voices are being raised to advocate restraint to avoid extreme political instability in the event of another prime minister being sent home by the Supreme Court. What is most baffling is that people want the court to exercise restraint, without expecting the government to abide by the laws and constitution.
If Raja adopts Gilani’s stand on the letter issue, who will be in violation of the law – the Supreme Court judges or the prime minister? Why must we acquiesce in and tolerate the deliberate trampling of laws by those sworn to defend and uphold them only to avoid political inconvenience?
Will our political system be more robust by allowing crooks to remain at the helm or by jettisoning bad blood? If the heavens fall in applying the law, how can the judiciary be held responsible for that?
The blame must lie squarely with those who created the conditions for the heavens to fall, and then ultimately with the people who elevated such charlatans to power. This wound is self-inflicted. We walked into this mire with our eyes wide open. Had we possessed an iota of common sense so as not to vote on the basis of misplaced sympathy but rather on political and ethical merit, we would not find ourselves in this mess today.