ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court expressed concern on Thursday over capacity issues plaguing the National Accountability Bureau when it was told that 1,226 references were pending before different accountability courts and that five such courts were still without any presiding judge.
“Neither the investigating officers working with NAB are well trained to probe corruption allegations nor are the prosecutors interested in pursuing cases before accountability courts,” observed Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed.
Clearing the pending cases is the lowest priority with NAB, he regretted. He was heading a three-judge SC bench that had taken up suo motu notice about delays in decision-making process in cases before the accountability courts.
At the last hearing on Jan 8, Justice Mushir Alam had requested the chief justice to constitute a special bench and initiate suo motu proceedings over the delay in prosecuting the accused before the trial courts.
The top court had also asked the NAB to furnish a report highlighting reasons for the delay in trials, how many accountability courts were short of presiding judges and the reasons why the vacancies have not yet been filled.
On Thursday NAB’s Prosecutor General Asghar Haider told the court that the bureau’s chairman, retired Justice Javed Iqbal, was taking personal interest in the matter and had issued letters to regional offices highlighting that he himself was monitoring the pace of proceedings. The NAB chairman had also sought fortnightly reports from the offices concerned about the progress on different references pending in a number of accountability courts.
This is not a big deal and the pendency of 1,226 references in different courts can be cleared within six months provided these were pursued diligently, the chief justice observed. If a large number of witnesses are added to a case, the matter is never settled, he observed.
NAB should concentrate on the quality of witnesses than quantity in the references, the chief justice added.
The prosecutor general also told the court that NAB was in the process of issuing advertisements to seek assistance from the FIA and police in an attempt to revamp the entire investigation process and to bring radical changes.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court ordered appointments against five vacant posts of accountability judges in different cities.
Additional Attorney General Sajid Ilyas Bhatti told the court that the summary for filling the posts of one accountability judge each at the Peshawar and Quetta courts had been sent for approval of the president. The court expressed the hope that the offices would be filled within a week.
Referring to one vacant post at the Islamabad accountability court, the Supreme Court was told that the summary would be dispatched for perusal of the president within a day or two. The court expected that the summary would be approved within a week.
About two vacant posts of accountability judge in Karachi, the court was told that no agreement had been reached in the consultation process between the Sindh government and the Sindh High Court’s chief justice.
The court observed in its order that such issues should not cause a delay in filling of vacancies and highlighted the need for an amicable resolution of the matter.
“We expect that the stalemate will be resolved and by the end of two weeks the vacant posts will be filled,” Justice Gulzar Ahmed said.
When the apex court’s attention was sought by the prosecutor general about expiry of the terms of two accountability judges at Peshawar in mid-June, the chief justice ordered the government to immediately initiate consultations so that by the time the terms expires, new appointments were mad without any delay.
The court will take up the matter again after one month.
Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2020