Fair accountability?

Published October 7, 2018

THE National Accountability Bureau has struck again, and once again it appears that a disservice has been done to the cause of across-the-board, fair and lawful accountability.

The arrest of the president of a major political party and multi-term chief minister is a significant step, but NAB and other investigative agencies must not fear to tread in certain areas simply because powerful individuals are implicated in wrongdoing.

All are equal before the law and where there is evidence of wrongdoing, the accountability process should march forward confidently.

Yet, the manner in which Shahbaz Sharif has been detained and the murkiness of the allegations against the ex-Punjab chief minister suggest that NAB has launched itself headlong into yet another high-profile inquest without adequate preparation and perhaps even disregard for due process and the principles of justice and transparency.

Now that NAB has secured custody of Mr Sharif for 10 days it must use that time to assemble a compelling case of alleged corruption and malfeasance.

Anything short of that and the allegation that NAB is working on a partisan agenda will gain further strength.

Selective accountability is as unwelcome and undesirable as no accountability because selective accountability undermines public trust in the accountability process itself.

To be sure, the accountability record of all major political parties in the country is poor. Successive PPP and PML-N governments at the centre and in the provinces failed to yield a single instance of internal accountability against senior party figures and public office holders.

The two parties were also content to desultorily negotiate a new accountability framework, allowing NAB to continue to exist despite a bipartisan consensus that the organisation needed to be scrapped in favour of an empowered but fair accountability setup.

The PTI is a first-time ruling party at the centre, but in KP little progress was made towards meaningful and institutionalised accountability between 2013 and 2018.

And while the PTI federal government is wholeheartedly supporting NAB in its efforts today, it is yet to be seen if it will allow its own party ranks to be scrutinised as closely as today’s opposition parties are experiencing.

Indeed, if NAB’s focus remains on the PML-N and the PPP, it will be difficult to deny that a political decapitation effort is under way. The country cannot afford to return to the vendetta politics of the 1990s and the disaster that it led to in the form of the Musharraf dictatorship.

Perhaps the NAB high command should pay heed to the advice of the superior judiciary, with Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar last month calling on the accountability body to improve its investigatory and prosecutorial systems.

Before showy arrests and news conferences are undertaken, the careful work of collecting evidence and assembling rock-solid prosecution cases should be the focus for NAB.

Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2018

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