Before leaving for Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif held a meeting with the leader of opposition in the National Assembly, Syed Khurshid Shah, to discuss names for the next chairman of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
As per the 18th Amendment, the prime minister has to consult the opposition leader before appointing the NAB head. With Mr Sharif’s tight schedule, it was decided that a meeting in this regard would be held after Eid and a consensus on one name would be developed.
The position has been lying vacant since May 28 this year when the Supreme Court sent former NAB chairman Admiral (retired) Fasih Bokhari packing.
The former leader of opposition, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, had challenged Mr Bokhari’s appointment stating that he (Nisar) had not been consulted by the former premier while appointing Mr Bokhari, which was a violation of rules.
As required by law, both sides have already proposed two names each to lead the anti-graft body. Three of the four proposed names are retired judges, while one is a former bureaucrat. As it is, the balance is heavily tilted in favour of the judges.
Among these four, according to media reports, the choice is boiling down to one Justice (retired) Rana Bhagwandas.
The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N has proposed the names of Justice Rehmat Hussain Jaffrey and former federal secretary Khawaja Zaheer Ahmed, while the Pakistan People’s Party nominated Justice Sardar Hassan Raza and Justice Rana Bhagwandas.
Considering the challenging job to lead NAB, whose primary purpose is to hunt down criminals involved in swindling the public exchequer, some argue that a 70-plus retired judge was not a good option. This is especially the case in a country such as Pakistan where corruption is a major issue and needs an all-out effort to get rid of the corrupt.
However, because of the politicisation of institutions such as NAB in the past, the focus at present for the NAB head is not on one who can deliver. Rather, the government is focusing on a person who enjoys an unblemished career and can bring a good name to the institution.
“As far as Justice Bhagwandas is concerned, he definitely enjoys a positive across-the-board reputation, and this is the only reason he is being considered for the position,” said Dr Rashid Khan, former head of political science department, University of the Punjab.
He said politicians – or for that matter democracy– in the country had still not reached a level where bold decisions could be taken. Hence the government, in order to avoid criticism, was not taking risks by appointing young professionals.
Dr Khan disapproved the practice of relying on former judges, bureaucrats, and generals to head institutions such as the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and NAB, and was in favour of professionals who could deliver.
The executive director of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Dr Abid Sulehri, also endorsed Dr Khan’s views that the entire focus was on appointing a non-controversial person as the next NAB head.
“Despite his or her competence, if a comparatively young person is appointed the head, he/she is sure to attract criticism,” Dr Sulehri opined.
However, age is not the only concern.
Justice Bhagwandas recently completed his four-year stint as chairman Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) in December 2012.
The commission’s act effectively bars its former chairman from taking any government position, including that of NAB chairman, for two years after his or her tenure ended.
Reports are doing the rounds that if the government and opposition agree on the name of Justice Bhagwandas, the two sides are also willing to make amendments to the commission’s act so that the two-year condition can be struck down through an ordinance.
The media has already started raising questions on Mr Bhagwandas’ likely appointment. He may have an unblemished career as a judge, but that doesn’t mean he would be an equally good NAB chairman, some argue.
In this regard, a former federal secretary, who did not want to be named, said a judge may be excellent at his profession but was not necessarily a good administrator.
He said the recent experience of the Chief Election Commissioner Justice (retired) Fakharuddin G. Ebrahim was an obvious testimony in this regard. Despite Mr Ebrahim’s undisputed reputation (his appointment as ECP head was hailed by everyone), the performance of the Election Commission in the recent general elections was not satisfactory, he said.
“Except for the ruling PML-N, almost every political party was up in arms against the inadequate arrangements for the elections,” the former secretary said.
Even people from the legal fraternity are against the appointment of retired judges on such administrative positions.
“I personally believe a judge, whether retired or in service, is not suitable for this kind of assignment wherein you have to follow fraudsters and prosecute them in the court of law. It’s more of an administrator’s job.
“Even in the Election Commission, we need good administrators, not judges, because one has to manage things not pass rulings,” Justice (retired) Tariq Mehmood said while commenting on Justice Bhagwandas’ likely appointment as next NAB chairman.