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Task forces mull debilitating effect of NAB’s intervention

Updated May 18, 2019

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Taking due notice of the complaints against NAB, Dr Hussain said drive against corruption could not be withdrawn. — NAB/File
Taking due notice of the complaints against NAB, Dr Hussain said drive against corruption could not be withdrawn. — NAB/File

LAHORE: The issue of complaints of undue intervention in the official work by NAB to find out corruption without its know-how dominated an important meeting of two task forces held under their head Dr Ishrat Hussain on Friday, making the participants admit that such corruption hunt had choked governance in the country and needed to be immediately tackled.

The discussion on the issue prevented the Task Forces on Civil Service Reforms and Austerity and Restructuring of Government from fully concentrating on the agenda of the meeting or to take a decision on matters regarding a new civil service structure and mode of the CSS examination.

The meeting was held in the Civil Secretariat and was attended by members of the task forces constituted by the prime ministerial committees, including civil servants from Islamabad, former chief secretary Salman Siddique and lawyer Salman Akram Raja. Punjab was represented by Chief Secretary Yousaf Nasim Khokhar.

According to official sources, taking due notice of the complaints against NAB, Dr Hussain said drive against corruption could not be withdrawn because it was the pivot of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s election campaign. Nevertheless, he reportedly said, the drive should not choke governance. A way should be found to resolve this problem, he reportedly said.

He said it should be assessed as to how civil servants could be saved from direct interventions by NAB in their official work. Complaints against civil servants could be sent to the chief secretaries for departmental inquiries which should not affect daily operational matters.

Sources said the chief secretary informed Dr Hussain that during a recent meeting with Punjab bureaucrats, the NAB chairman had assured that inquiries against them would be conducted only at the higher level and no one would be intimidated by NAB.

The participants said “hyper accountability” was the main focus of the administration, choking governance in the country and Punjab. They said civil servants were being quizzed on non-issues like who said what during meetings of administrative nature.

The NAB investigators were declaring every administrative action misuse of power and mixing error of judgments or bona fide errors with misuse of power or corruption.

Dr Hussain was informed that the NAB investigators lacked capacity to investigate the official matters. And therefore their modus operandi to find out corruption was rough and humiliating.

The chief secretary is reported to have said the humiliation and intimidation had shaken confidence of bureaucrats rendering them unable to take policy, planning and development decisions particularly those involving funds. Many were reluctant to sanction funds or projects and this was hampering governance, he said.

An IT expert mentioned corruption sniffing bots which Dr Hussain reportedly said could be installed in Punjab as a pilot project. The meeting agreed that corruption inquiries should be conducted but only on the basis of solid and clear evidence. Misuse of authority might not be taken as corruption.

Mr Khokhar accepted the advice and desired a briefing on the digital surveillance of corruption.

The meeting earlier discussed only one point on the agenda. It was about redesigning training for civil servants, declaring the current arrangements mere general in nature. It was discussed that the civil servants should be given on-job mentoring and guidance specific to the nature of their jobs. Those in the field should also be taught how to handle the media.

No decision could be taken on enhancing the retirement age of civil servants as many said this could be allowed only to those whose expertise was further required.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2019