The rule of law should be upheld by all, irrespective of their station in life. It is especially important that the government and its functionaries remember this cardinal principle and ensure that it is upheld at all times if the goal is the creation of a democratic society.

We say this because of the surprise sprung on citizens through the approval by the cabinet of a draft of the Civil Service Act 2018. The surprise is not that such a law will be there. It is that it provides an unnatural degree of protection to public servants who may be accused of crimes and varied corruption. Under the draft law, no public servant can be placed under arrest on criminal charges without the permission of the relevant authorities. That raises the ominous question: why cannot they be arrested if there are grounds to suppose they are involved in criminal acts, which acts will be inquired into by the courts and for which they may be charge-sheeted later? When citizens are arrested in questionable manner, often without any warrant, and at bizarre times of the day and night, it is unacceptable that special measures will have to be followed if civil servants need to answer for their wrongdoing before the courts. What happens if an officer of the state is caught taking bribes from a citizen? Must permission be obtained before he is taken into custody for such a brazen commission of crime?

This unhealthy point in the Civil Service Act 2018 further weakens the Anti-Corruption Commission. People have always expected that the ACC will be an effective body empowered to clamp down severely on corruption. In recent years, though, that expectation has been belied. Now, with the new act on the arrest of public servants for criminal conduct insinuating its way in, a good chunk more of the wings of the ACC will be clipped. Without question, the move strikes at the universally accepted concept of rule of law.

Crime cannot be seen through compartmentalised and convenient ways. Those accused of criminal conduct must face the same process of arrest, trial and justice without any form of discrimination and without any form of prejudice. That being the truth, we expect the authorities will reconsider the measure incorporated in the draft Civil Service Act 2018 in order for it not to taint our democratic aspirations any further. Bureaucracy already has a bad name in the country. Why have more opprobrium piled on it through such ill-thought of steps?

By Editor-in-Chief -Enayetullah Khan

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