ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court restrained National Accoun­tability Bureau (NAB) chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry on Monday from approving deals for voluntary return (VR), a provision under the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999, that allows people guilty of corruption to pay a certain portion of the embezzled money and be released without any stigma.

The NAB scheme even allows federal and provincial government servants to resume work in their departments after availing the NAB’s VR facility.

“In the meanwhile the NAB chairman is restrained from exercising jurisdiction under Section 25(a) of the NAO till the next date of hearing,” says an order issued by Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali after hearing the suo motu case on a note of the SC registrar.

The suo motu action was taken on the basis of a Sept 2 observation of Justice Amir Hani Muslim in Karachi during the hearing of a NAB appeal in which the judge had criticised powers of the NAB chairman that allow an offender to go off scot-free after paying a certain amount of the embezzled money under the voluntary return (VR) facility of NAB.

Prosecutor General Waqas Qadeer Dar was also ordered by the court to submit a comprehensive list before the court before Nov 7 showing officers who were still holding offices after availing the NAB’s VR scheme.

The NAB, through an earlier report, had submitted that 1,584 civil servants, 165 of them federal government employees and 1,419 provincial government officers, enjoyed the VR facility of NAB by paying Rs2 billion.

“It is unfortunate that basic issues are being compromised at the altar of politics,” the chief justice observed, wondering how such “brazen and blatant acts” become law and make the country a laughing stock across the world.

Justice Muslim, also a member of the bench, hinted at issuing ord­ers to prosecute those who had benefited from the VR scheme even though they had been accused of plundering colossal sums of money.

Justice Muslim asked the NAB prosecutor general to submit a statement showing the amount received so far by NAB in the shape of VR and then deposited with the state exchequer without deducing a certain percentage.

The NAB PG, however, shed light on a standard operating procedure of depositing 34 per cent of the money upfront by an individual found guilty of corruption.

Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf Ali, who appeared on a court notice, suggested that there might be another way of restraining the NAB chairman from exercising his powers. He said that section 25(a) was a declaration of law, lkthough the government could make amendments.

Learning from NRO episode, the AG explained, had the original Ehtesab Act formulated by the PML-N government been considered, the court would have realised that this provision of VR had been drafted correctly.

But the AG hastened to add that a letter had been issued from his office to departments concerned for identifying officers who were still holding offices.

Justice Muslim said that through section 25(a), the bureau had told everyone about loopholes in law, adding that NAB had “destroyed everything”.

There are several members of National and provincial assemblies and high-ranking government and autonomous organisations’ officers who are still holding respective offices despite committing corruption and have availed the VR facility of NAB chairman and that too by paying a portion of the embezzled amount in instalments.

“A thing which cannot be settled through courts because it has to apply judicial mind in the larger public interest, can be done by NAB over a cup of coffee,” the chief justice regretted.

“It is like a VR on sale in the open market,” Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed lamented.

Out-of-turn promotions

The same bench also issued notices for Nov 2 in a separate suo motu case against alleged illegal appointments and out-of-turn promotions of former military officers in National Accountability Bureau.

The case was initiated by the chief justice on an anonymous letter, drawing the court’s attention towards appointment of 16 former military officers on deputation in senior grades from BPS-20 to BPS-21 out of the total 32 officers working in similar grades.

Later, eight senior officers of the bureau moved a joint application before the Supreme Court to become a party to the case with a pleading that the out-of-turn promotions of the former military officers were hindering their promotions to next grades.

Already NAB Chairman Chaudhry Qamar Zaman and Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf are on notice in the case.

In the anonymous letter, the author had alleged that NAB had not only violated the basic service structure and service laws of the country but also grossly put the Supreme Court’s order in sheer disregard vis-a-vis its appointment and promotion orders.

The letter explained that these 16 officers, a majority of them former military officers on deputation, had been posted on OPS (own pay and scale) against higher gra­des, particularly director generals of different regional NAB offices.

A majority of them were posted in NAB on a deputation period of three years — from 1999 to 2002 — but later were absorbed permanently. 

Published in Dawn October 25th, 2016