ISLAMABAD: Following the prime minister’s criticism of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the anti-corruption watchdog regretted that it had “inherited some problems that hampered its investigation process”.
In addition, the interior minister has offered to constitute a judicial commission to look into former president Asif Ali Zardari’s claim that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) also was exceeding its mandate.
Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah also endorsed the PM’s views on NAB, but others, including the PTI, called for greater transparency and said his remarks were tantamount to ‘interference’ in the process of accountability.
On Wednesday, NAB spokesperson Nawazish Ali Asim issued an official statement that vowed to improve the accountability process in line with the PM’s criticism and directives.
Nisar offers Zardari judicial commission to examine FIA’s performance
The statement claimed that the government was not interfering with NAB’s work and that the bureau would act upon the PM’s advice. “The non-interference policy of the government has helped NAB become an independent organisation and it respects the opinion of Prime Minister Mohammad Nawaz Sharif,” the spokesperson said.
“The organisation inherited some problems and it [is quickly] taking necessary measures to resolve them,” he added.
The PM had lashed out at NAB on Tuesday and threatened to clip its powers over what he termed “harassment of government officers”. He had said that bureaucrats were afraid of taking decisions because they were fearful of NAB harassment.
NAB terrifies government officers and hinders them from performing their duties, while NAB officials enter the houses and offices of ‘innocent people’ without verifying the authenticity of the charges against them, he had said.
These views were echoed by Syed Khursheed Shah who said on Wednesday, “I agree that NAB’s modus operandi is not correct.”
Mr Shah told reporters that the PM had personally decided to appoint Qamar Zaman Chaudhry as chairman of the bureau. He said he had hoped that NAB would hold all people equally accountable, but many political parties had complained that unlike Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, the bureau was doing nothing in Punjab, which was run by the ruling PML-N.
But PTI members rushed to NAB’s support in the National Assembly.
“NAB will definitely conduct inquiries if the Sharifs continue to plunder national wealth,” PTI leader Sarwar Khan said on the floor of the house, adding that the PM should make accountability institutions more powerful, instead of threatening them.
The Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency also expressed concern over PM’s warning to NAB, saying that Mr Sharif had gone out of the way to threaten the bureau.
The institute warned that any effort to roll back the ‘independence and effectiveness’ of NAB would only ‘dilute democracy’ and invite ‘non-institutional accountability’ by institutions which did not have legal mandate, but the muscle, to undertake such actions.
Judicial commission for FIA
Also on Wednesday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan offered to form a judicial commission to look into the role and performance of the Federal Investigation Agency over the last two and a half years.
In a rejoinder to former president and PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari’s statement that the FIA was following in the footprints of NAB in exceeding its mandate, the minister assured that the FIA would not be used against political opponents or innocent people as long as he held office.
He, however, said the FIA would act with full force against the corrupt and not show any leniency. “In this respect we are ready for judicial scrutiny of all FIA cases”, he remarked.
He claimed that he had not used the FIA for any personal, political or illegal purpose, not had he allowed it to succumb to any external pressure or interference during the term of the current government.
Saying he did not want to go into details of how the FIA had been used in the past, the minister claimed he was trying to transform it into an apolitical but completely professional investigation agency. However, he admitted that there was still a lot to be done before the agency could be purged of corruption.
Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2016