National interest | Farrukh Saleem

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Farrukh Saleem is a columnist based in Islamabad.

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Conflict of interest is a ‘term used to describe the situation in which a public officeholder contrary to the obligation and absolute duty to act in the national interest exploits his public office for personal benefits’. In essence, three critical terms here: holder of public office and national interest versus personal benefit.

On May 11, 2013, of the 45 million voters who voted that day a total of 14.8 million voted for the PML-N. As a consequence of the general election, each and every person – including the prime minister and the chief minister – who entered into a public office has an ‘obligation and an absolute duty to act in the national interest as oppose to personal interest’.

For the record, under the Punjab Industries (Control on Establishment and Enlargement) Ordinance of 1963 the growing of cotton in the districts of Rahim Yar Khan, Muzaffargarh, Bahawalpur and Rajanpur is in our national interest’. Apparently, it was in the ‘business interest’ of “sugar mills owned by the family members of the chief minister of Punjab and the prime minister of the country” to be relocated to cotton-growing districts. For the record, a notification was issued by the Government of Punjab “to facilitate the business interest of the…..sugar mills owned by the family members of the chief minister of Punjab and the prime minister of the country.”

On October 10, 2016, Justice Ayesha A Malik of the Lahore High Court (LHC) wrote a landmark 13,406-word judgement in which the term national interest’ appears 55 times. Never before in Pakistan’s chequered judicial history has a judge used the term ‘national interest’ 55 times in just one judgement. The word ‘public’ appears 43 times; ‘cotton growing areas’ 25 times; ‘business’ 11 times; ‘conflict’ 7 times; ‘facilitate’ 5 times; and ‘relocation’ 4 times.

Justice Ayesha A Malik writes that the Government of Punjab’s notification that allowed the relocation of the sugar mills owned by the family members of the chief minister of Punjab and the prime minister of the country “failed to take into consideration the national interest….” The judgement further states: “A conflict of interest will arise where an official decision will impact a personal interest, financially or otherwise such that a public official is seen to have gained from that decision or is perceived to have gained from that decision.”

Justice Ayesha Malik’s recommendation is that: “Where there is conflict of interest between private interest and public duty it must be clearly identified, appropriately managed and effectively resolved” adding that “Any conflict of interest, in fact or perceived will destroy public trust and malign the decisions making process.” The jurisprudence on conflict of interest, according to the judgement, “aims to ensure that private interest will not prosper from decisions taken in public office, while carrying out official duties and responsibilities.”

For the past seven decades, private interests of public officeholders have been prospering at the cost of the national interest. This is what is happening – and has been happening for a very long time. Holders of public offices contrary to the obligation and absolute duty to act in the ‘national interest’ are – and have been – exploiting their public offices for ‘personal benefits’. This is conflict of interest. This is what is destroying Pakistan. And this is what must stop. We must now move from a predatory state to a contractual one.

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: farrukh15@hotmail.com Twitter: @saleemfarrukh