WHETHER or not the prime minister was involved in corruption in the rental power plants project remains an open question. But his request to the Supreme Court on Friday to replace the National Accountability Bureau investigation with a one-man commission is the best way forward at this point. The NAB investigation has been languishing for months now, plagued by delays and controversies, complete with the sinister death of an officer assigned to the case. It is difficult to see how the probe could credibly continue with the same people at its helm, and if those people are replaced by an opposition party’s candidates after the elections, a new set of biases could come into play. So the prime minister’s suggestion that a trusted person outside NAB be appointed to look into the case is probably the only chance the investigation has of being completed and its findings widely accepted. But that, too, has its challenges; the Arsalan Iftikhar case was also moved from NAB to just such a commission, and that investigation has not held anyone accountable or announced any results.
The real challenge that both these cases reflect is the all too familiar, long-running problem of the lack of an effective accountability body in Pakistan. In their various guises over the years, these bodies have been seen as little more than tools of political victimisation or, at best, as being too soft on the party in power. That in turn has had a lot to do with the way these bodies are appointed and who they report to. The real need is for an organisation that is financially and administratively independent, as far as possible, from the government of the day, and whose head is appointed through a truly bipartisan process. The delays and disagreements over the National Accountability Commission legislation are proof that Pakistan still hasn’t come up with such a set-up and process. This government managed to delay the creation of the commission long enough to complete a term without it. The hope now is that the next government has the integrity to move forward with it.