No legacy is so rich as honesty (Shakespeare). Among many contributions of the commando-turned-politician, Gen(R) Pervez Musharraf, establishment of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in November 1999 was a novel and a shell-shock experience for the wicked commonality. Being a leading exponent of accountability, the veteran empowered the body to close in against the corrupt elements of the society irrespective of the lineage they belong to, albeit its performance over the years could not bring distinctive accolades to its honor.
Since inception, the anti-graft watchdog claims to recover Rs. 886 billion, with Rs. 91 billion recovered in 2021, but surprisingly the finance ministry fails to reconcile the claim with the amount banked in the exchequer. Is it more effective than it was two decades ago or is it losing its efficiency as a restitutive tool? Is it overshadowed with the manipulative objective of retributive trials? Why do we witness bouts of over accountability followed by complete inactivity?
On one hand, NAB annual report 2021 highlights the achievements of the body and stakes a claim at the most aggressive attitude of adopting zero tolerance towards corruption. On the contrary, as per Transparency International, Pakistan’s standing is hovering near the bottom of the list; Pakistan is stationed at 140th position out of 180 countries with a score of 28 out of 100! Certainly, both of the claims are not equally justified.
Once again, the stories involving noble watchdog are in the bulletin for September; scareheads of acquittal and indictment subject to political victimization have become an area of interest for the newshawks. In a recent proceeding, Islamabad High Court (IHC) grilled NAB prosecutor over his inability to present physical evidence in the case “assets beyond means”, submitted against the former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. Further, the honorable judge expressed his frustration over lack of physical evidence in the conviction of the daughter of former supremo, with the charge for abetment in the purchase of foreign properties. The court was adjourned until next hearing on September 29, requiring NAB prosecutor to establish a connection between the purchased properties and the former supremo, a valid trail of monetary transaction for the purchase and a testimony for putting charge of abetment against the daughter of Sharif. Will it be able to satisfy the court in such a short time frame? The precedents urge an objective answer which never allows us to answer this in affirmation!
In an interesting development, National Accountability (Second Amendment Bill) 2022 was passed annexing it to the original National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999.The tweak in NAO has stripped bureau’s power to respond to the fraud by officials holding public offices, it has significantly shrunk its ambit of authority; for that reason, accountability courts have released numerous cases in a hearing early in September. Noticeably, NAB raised references against the incumbent prime minister, Shahbaz Sharif; the trial pertains to the alleged misuse of public resources worth more than Rs. 200 million for the construction of a drain apparently in use of family-owned sugar business. It is pertinent to mention here that Sharif was arrested in 2018 after his indictment in the above case and was on bail following the orders of Lahore High Court. With the fresh amendments, the case file and all the developments thereon were moved out of the domain of bureau. Other notable cases accompanying the above case included the references submitted against the former public office holders including premiership holders, Yousuf Raza and Raja Pervez. Amended NAO was kind enough to have granted immunity to these defendants in their respective trials.
Another splendor of justice was seen when the honorable IHC ordered NAB to brush off the dust on 25-years old cases against the former president, Asif Zardari. The court assigned NAB to review the acquittal in the references submitted in Ursus Tractors, ARY Gold and other cases after consulting the amended NAO until October 20. This is not the first time where the watchdog was used as a retributive tool with its noose in the hands of a puppet master.
Shuffling of the political cases and their subsequent engineering through political enactments leaves the accountability at the mercy of prejudiced restitution. This not only compromises the national resources but also undermines the trust in the judicial system which is why Musharraf once remarked, “I established NAB to instill fear of God in the hearts of the mighty and the rich”. Alas! the toothless accountability seems to replace the left-over fears with enkindled audacity to commit fraud.
The writer contributes to the national press occasionally & is accessible at [email protected]