For the public sector, financial accountability has traditionally been carried out by the Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP). Budgetary grants and monitoring their expenditures has perhaps been their most consistent accountability role.

Articles 168, 169 and 170 of the constitution defines the functions of the AGP, who is appointed by the President. The department’s jurisdiction extends to the federal and provincial governments, and to any entity established by them.

The reports relating to the accounts for the federal government are submitted to the President, and for the provincial governments to the respective governors. The parliamentarians are entrusted with ensuring that public funds are spent legitimately and fairly in the public interest.

The AGP is duty bound to detect amounts misappropriated, fraudulently misused, or declared wasteful and to fix responsibilities while conducting special or other audits. The audit reports are forwarded to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for scrutiny and discussion. PAC is represented by the National Assembly and the Senate, and is conventionally headed by the opposition leader. The meetings of the PAC are deliberated by its members, the AGP and the Principal Accounting Officers (PAOs) of various ministries, divisions and departments.

Despite its significance, the AGP has failed to deliver results. It submitted reports to the army appointed Presidents during martial law regimes. Their disinterest stemmed from their own illegitimacy. General Ayub Khan placed the AGP’s department under the Ministry of Finance, impairing its independence, while the PAC meetings during General Zia’s era were just an eye wash and also held irregularly.

During General Musharraf’s tenure, the top management only engaged itself in the scrutiny of previous eras, while ignoring corrupt practices of his cronies. However, he introduced stringent measures through the National Accountability Ordinance.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB), while intrinsically aimed to eradicate corruption, was used to appease loyal public servants and change political loyalties. The NAB and its measures proved defective. Plea bargains were also questionable.

Then again, during the civilian regimes, the AGPs were hand-picked and appointed from amongst compromised and shady characters. The autocratic attitudes of our leaders must end for ensuring real accountability. No vendetta should be settled at the cost of the AGP’s independence.

Most audit reports point out frivolous objections and a lack professionalism due to incompetent auditors. Material and significant issues are usually settled and compromised at the departmental levels, by the respective Director Generals, for illegal gratifications.

Aiming for the models of the Scandinavian countries will be beneficial. It requires fair legal frameworks, enforced impartially by an independent judiciary and an incorruptible police force. Good governance requires mediation of different interest groups to reach a long-term consensus on the community’s achievable interests through sustainable methods. This can only come about after thoroughly understanding the historical, cultural and social contexts of a society, and ensuring that its members are empowered.

The fact that Pakistan has dipped further in the Corruption Perceptions Index by 24 positions is blatant evidence that the current deterrents are inadequate and unreliable. Pakistan’s laws, institutions and practices are often victims of manipulation for private gains. Even the integrity of the accountability institutions is questionable, as weak and vulnerable persons are deliberately appointed.

Weakened democratic institutions and political rights need to be strengthened, and our shrunken civil society needs reinvigoration to combat corruption.

Professional and international standards, contained in the audit manuals, should be adopted by the auditors of government entities. Selection procedures and trainings need to be revised accordingly and professionally certified auditors should be recruited.

The concept of social trust can be interpreted in the context of self-accountability and propriety. Social trust, as a belief in honesty, integrity and reliability in citizens, has yet to materialise for Pakistan.

If the Auditor General’s office conducts its role diligently and honestly, there would be no need of the NAB and various Ombudsmen offices. They are hardly serving any productive purpose. Focus should be on good governance, rather than creating more and more organisations to quell corruption.