LAHORE: The Supreme Court on Monday took exception to the National Accountability Bureau’s practice of leaking information of people facing NAB inquiries to the media, leading to their character assassination without any charge being proved against them.

“NAB has no right to ridicule anyone,” Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar told the bureau’s prosecutor general Syed Asghar Haider.

A three-judge bench headed by the CJP is hearing a matter relating to excessive salaries of chief executive officers (CEOs) and others working in the public sector companies in Punjab. Justice Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Ijazul Ahsan are other members of the bench.

During the hearing on Monday, the chief justice observed that the proceedings of the bureau were privileged in nature and could not be disclosed to the media officially.

“People summoned by NAB come to know about summons through the media in most of the cases,” the chief justice said and added, “We cannot allow this kind of accountability”.

He said the court had proof that the bureau treated people unjustly without possessing any evidence against them. He observed that this practice of the anti-corruption watchdog would discourage foreign investors. “Do you want to drive out foreign investors from the country?” the chief justice asked the prosecutor general.

Mr Haider stated that NAB Chairman retired justice Javed Iqbal had initiated a process of strict internal accountability. He said some individuals were involved in such practices but the institution under the chairmanship of Mr Iqbal had been acting strictly in accordance with the law.

Justice Ahsan observed that the practice of scandalising people was observed at the level of investigating officers.

Chief Justice Nisar noted that there was a consideration at the time of the chairman’s appointment that a retired judge, if appointed (as NAB head), could save the bureau from the wrath of the Supreme Court.

The chief justice directed the NAB chairman to meet him in his chamber along with the prosecutor general next Monday to discuss the issue.

Meanwhile, the bench was informed that 39 officers out of 56 who had worked or were working in the public sector companies had agreed to voluntarily return the salaries they received (in excess to their regular salaries) being government servants.

Representing at least 20 officers, senior lawyer Ahsan Bhoon asked the court to grant one-year time for the return of the salaries in instalments.

However, the chief justice refused to grant such a long period for the purpose and observed that no money would be recovered after his retirement. Chief Justice Nisar will reach superannuation in January 2019.

Chief Justice Nisar directed the officers to deposit the amount to NAB within three months and asked the bureau to start recovery from those who were not willing to return their excessive salaries. He said the recovered amount would be deposited in the fund for dams.

The bench observed that NAB was free to drop inquiries against the officers if there was no other charge against them than receiving excessive salaries.

Published in Dawn, August 21st, 2018

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