NAB CHAIRMAN retired Justice Javed Iqbal recently launched into a long-winded defence of his institution after asking participants at a ceremony in Multan a rhetorical question: why had the corruption watchdog not been struck down by the judiciary if its performance was so poor? Justice Iqbal remarked, “A few days back, a gentleman said that NAB is the largest institute of money laundering. Even if we buy his claim, believe me, this money laundering is for the sake of the public and not for the sake of making properties in Paris, making agriculture farms in Australia and building towers in Dubai and Muscat.” It appears that the growing criticism against the anti-graft body had hit a nerve, especially considering that Justice Iqbal’s response included oblique references to politicians who are being investigated for allegedly transferring wealth abroad.
While NAB officials have every right to defend themselves against what they are saying is “malicious propaganda”, lashing out at critics — largely opposition politicians — who are levelling criticism is detrimental to the bureau’s image. First, it will further escalate the blame game between those under investigation and NAB — something that is already playing out daily on prime time news shows. Second, and perhaps more importantly, is that such attacks from the chairman against opposition members will only confirm misgivings that NAB is biased against certain politicians. By saying that Pakistan’s financial crisis is the fault of those who have “towers in Dubai, properties abroad and Panama-like matters”, Justice Iqbal is betraying that he is operating on the presumption of guilt and not innocence, even as investigations proceed against several politicians. Much like former chief justice Saqib Nisar, who would lash out at undertrials in court, he is misusing his position to target those who he believes have illegally amassed wealth. The NAB chairman would do well to remember that justice must be seen to be done, and that accountability officers who do not exhibit impartiality only weaken the people’s trust in the system.
Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2019