Well there’s never a dull day in Pakistan. Today the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered the National Accountability Bureau (the countries anti-corruption agency), to arrest all of the accused in the multi-million dollar Rental Power Projects scandal and produce them before the court on Thursday January 17th; and as luck would have it for Pakistan, the main accused in the RPP’s case is Raja Pervez Ashraf, who is the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Before I proceed I want to make it clear that the hysteria and conjecture and conspiracy theories that are being peddled within and without Pakistan as to the timing and nature of the Court Order are all absolute nonsense. The Supreme Court is not acting at the behest of or in cahoots with the Army. The Supreme Court is not trying to destabilize the government so that elections can be delayed and a non-democratic, ”technocrat”, caretaker government can be installed with the backing of the Army and the Judiciary. The Supreme Court is not unfairly victimizing the ruling Pakistan People’s Party government with this order. And the Supreme Court is not hounding an innocent Raja Pervez Ashraf.
The RPP’s scandal has its origins in Pakistan’s chronic electricity shortage. No new power sources have been added to the national grid since the mid 1990’s. Since then the demand for electricity has risen massively as more businesses and houses can afford electricity; this increased demand, coupled with a dwindling capacity, as power plants decay and corrupt officials siphon off electricity from the grid to sell on the black market, has led to severe load-shedding (rolling blackouts), across Pakistan. Most cities in Pakistan lose power for several hours a day, and during the sweltering summer months power outages can last all day long. Load-shedding has cost the Pakistani people and economy dearly and is a major factor in Pakistan’s ongoing economic collapse.
When the Pakistan People’s Party came to power after the 2008 elections, which restored democracy in Pakistan, it promised to fix the electricity crisis. The Government’s solution was to institute Rental Power Projects; basically the government would allow local and foreign companies to build and maintain power plants and the government would then rent most of the electricity produced. Although the RPP’s would cost hundreds of millions of dollars (21 billion Pakistani Rupees), they were expected to be of great help in making up the energy shortfall that plagues Pakistan.
Soon however rumours of massive corruption began swirling. In the next few years the electricity crisis worsened and an audit revealed that the RPP’s had either not been built or were producing barely any electricity; even though the government had been paying billions of rupees for what on paper appeared to be thousands of megawatts of electricity. The newly restored and newly independent Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry took notice of the RPP’s scam and ordered the National Accountability Bureau to investigation. The NAB soon found evidence that members of the government had lined their pockets with the money that was supposed to pay for electricity from the rental power plants, foremost among them was then then minister for water and power, Raja Pervez Ashraf.
In March 2011 the SC declared the RPP deals illegal and ordered the NAB to to recover the stolen money and charge all those suspected of involvement in the scam. Raja who had earned the nickname, ”Raja Rental”, for his role in the scam had already been sacked as minister for water and power due to his widespread unpopularity, resulting from his widely publicized corruption and incompetence, at one point Raja had assured the people of Pakistan that he would end all load-shedding by 2012, despite the widely known fact that the power crisis will continue for at least the rest of this decade.
In 2012 the SC dismissed Prime Minister Gilani after he committed contempt of court for refusing to re-open a corruption case which his boss President Asi Ali Zardari had been convicted for in Switzerland. Zardari’s first choice for prime minister was arrested for drug smuggling shortly before he was to be sworn in. Zardari then turned to Raja, perhaps because he knew the deeply unpopular Raja would prove little threat to him and could be easily sacrificed if necessary. The NAB became reluctant to charge Raja despite clear evidence of his involvement and after the NAB missed several Court deadlines, the SC gave it’s order to arrest all the accused including Raja.
There’s mass panic in political circles and fears that martial law is imminent. Protests have been called in Sindh province, the stronghold of the Pakistan People’s Party, and because this is Pakistan people will die in those protests. A recurring theme in Pakistan’s history is an inability for the ruling elite and the populace at large to remain calm and collected during tense situations; instead panic reigns and desperate and irresponsible measures are resorted to.
I will now run through what I believe will actually happen in the wake of the SC’s order. The Prime Minister will appear before the SC on Thursday and be granted bail. Protests will soon dissipate. President Zardari will finalize negotiations with the main opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and they will jointly agree on the nominees for the caretaker government which will oversee the Federal and Provincial elections, as the constitution requires them to do. Once a caretaker government is decided upon Zardari will announce the date of the elections and dissolve the National Assembly and the Provincial Assemblies. My guess is that all this will be completed by the end of January or early February, allowing for elections to be held in late March or early April. And perhaps if Pakistan is lucky, some of the money stolen from the treasury will be regained and some of the culprits brought to justice. And maybe, just maybe, politicians will in the future refrain from committing such brazen corruption. In the end Raja Rental will be forgotten about soon enough, and this whole affair will prove to be much ado about nothing.