Prime Minister Imran Khan’s instructions to the Anti-Corruption Establishment, Punjab (ACE, Punjab) of going after the “big fish”, while probably well-intentioned, does not help in solving the endemic problem of corruption in the province. The issue with focusing only on cases that are high profile is that corruption gets sidelined in the bid to make news headlines with the original problem unsolved., Requesting the anti-graft body to focus on big cases specifically is also exerting a kind of pressure where it is required to produce ‘big results’, not necessarily working on eliminating the issue root and stem.

This obsession with going after the “big fish” has been shared by previous governments in the past, yet the overall problem of corruption has persisted. This type of rhetoric, especially at a time when the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has already been accused of politically victimising the government’s opponents and being visibly biased in its decision to pursue specific cases while ignoring others, only takes away from the accountability drive in Punjab.

The ACE Punjab should not be used as a political tool to quash opposition or bureaucrats that are seen as supportive of former governments, but should instead work on taking upon all cases of corruption in the province, regardless of the amount of traction a particular case gets in the eyes of the government or the general public. The ACE Punjab, like many of its equivalent bodies across the country, has served the political-bureaucratic agenda of the government of the time. This needs to end if the current PTI-led government is really serious about working against corruption in the province.

There is a desperate need for the many departments of the province to work transparently and equitably. In many cases, with the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) being a prime example, it is not only the corruption of those at the top that causes losses of revenues or theft of state land; many employees from all levels of the bureaucratic hierarchy are involved and should be brought to justice.

Land grabbing and officials looking the other way in terms of taxation only continues to happen because corrupt officials act with impunity or without fear of reprisal. If the “big fish” are the only targets of this most recent attempt to clean up the province’s bureaucracy, we can expect all issues to persist. The Prime Minister should facilitate ACE Punjab’s independence and should look to remove all political directions from the accountability process.