ISLAMABAD: The National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) performance came under severe criticism in the Supreme Court on Wednesday after a senior counsel called the accountability watchdog an institution that was unrestrained and unbridled.
“We are waiting to see what happens about the accusation made by NAB Chairman Javed Iqbal,” argued senior counsel Iftikhar Gillani, referring to a recent statement by retired Justice Iqbal, in which he told the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Human Rights that former military ruler retired Gen Pervez Musharraf had secretly handed over 4,000 Pakistanis to foreign countries, mainly the United States.
The bench had taken up appeals against the Sindh High Court’s rejection of post-arrest bails in a Rs5.76 billion corruption reference against former Sindh information minister Sharjeel Memon and others.
Justice Khosa says ministers will never get away with corruption if their secretaries aren’t spineless
Mr Gillani, who is the defence counsel for former provincial information secretary Zulfikar Ali Shallwani, raised the statement made by Justice Iqbal in his capacity as chairman of the Commission of Enquiry on Enforced Disappearances. Speaking before a three-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, Mr Gillani said: “This would be a litmus test for us.”
He wondered whether NAB had ever bothered to take notice when a number of citizens in the country were whisked away and said that he had a serious grievance against NAB because they were only going after government functionaries.
Justice Khosa observed that the counsel should not refer to matters on which the court could not comment because if it did, the matter would become a subject of television talk shows in the evening.
Defending his client, the counsel argued that the corruption reference could not be extended to Mr Shallwani because a complaint alleging corruption in the department was moved by its director Zeenat Jehan on June 6, 2013, whereas his client had joined the department on Sept 19, 2013. He added that there were no allegations of connivance in corruption against his client.
Mr Gillani said that the only allegation against his client was that he was a member of the committee that had sanctioned the advertisement campaign. He said that Mr Shallwani had been in jail since Oct 25, 2017, when his bail was rejected by the high court. Of the 52 witnesses in this case, none of them had completed their statements, even though the NAB law asked for trial to be completed within 30 days, he argued.
The counsel recalled how the Supreme Court had ordered proceedings against Mr Musharraf when the former chief justice of this court (Abdul Hameed Dogar) was roped in a treason case, but nothing had come of it.
“What are they doing with competent people who join government services after intense competition?” the counsel asked. “Is this the way you treat people like them,” he regretted, adding that he had been to jail four times. Besides the physical discomfort of imprisonment, the overall experience [of being in jail] was very humiliating, the counsel said.
At this, Justice Khosa observed that Pakistan had been running perfectly fine till the time brightest and experienced bureaucrats with strong spines served the country.
“No minister can have the courage to do something wrong if the secretary of his department has a spine,” Justice Khosa observed.
He also made a light-hearted remark that he used to tell one of his friends, a spine specialist, that the country needed his services the most.
Mr Gilani recalled that when he was a federal minister for law, his secretary used to oppose him sometimes and point out if he had taken a wrong decision.
Senior counsel Faisal Siddiqi, representing Gulzar Ali, Salman Mansoor and Umer Shahzad, members of the advertisement agency which had been awarded the grant for the ad campaign, argued that the high court had erroneously rejected the bail pleas of his clients and said that he wanted the case remanded back to the high court.
The Supreme Court will take up the matter again on Thursday.
Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2018