IF the National Accountability Bureau has earned anything since its creation by a military dictator two decades ago, it is public censure and mistrust. The anti-corruption watchdog has over time become perhaps the most disliked agency in the country. Although the law was amended slightly last year, NAB still retains its powers to arrest people on mere complaints and allegations of corruption and financial wrongdoings. The truth is that NAB has hardly any ‘success’ to its credit to prove that it is adept at investigating white-collar crime — the task it has been entrusted with and that is the justification for its existence. Had the accountability law not provided for ‘plea bargain’ deals with the suspects and allowed NAB investigators to adopt a controversial, highhanded approach, it would have nothing to flaunt.
The recent hearings of two corruption cases against former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and former planning minister Ahsan Iqbal are evidence of how flawed the accountability law is. The politicians’ cases amply demonstrate that NAB does not open corruption inquiries on the basis of solid proof. Nor do its investigators care about actual probes. Little wonder then that most cases continue to linger in the accountability courts for want of proper evidence for years. In granting bail to the two former public representatives the other day, the Islamabad High Court laid bare the many faults in NAB’s investigation process. Chief Justice Athar Minallah raised some important questions about the bureau’s policy regarding the arrest of individuals — even when they were fully cooperating with the investigators in the probe against them — and blatant violations of the suspects’ constitutional rights. Apparently, NAB investigators have made no headway against Mr Abbasi who was arrested almost seven months back in the controversial LNG case. Officials involved in the case also have shown little understanding of how international business deals are done. Nor could they satisfy the judge on why it was necessary to arrest suspects, especially if they happened to have been elected public leaders.
The NAB actions against opposition politicians in the last couple of years, on the basis of flimsy evidence, has reinforced the belief that the agency is being used by the powers that be to make them fall in line. One can recall the way in which Pervez Musharraf used the body to carve out the ‘Patriot’ group from the PPP after the 2002 elections. That is not all. Recent NAB cases against bureaucrats and businessmen and the alleged pressure on them to turn approver against previous rulers have probably damaged investor confidence more than the government’s flawed policies to stabilise the economy. It is because of these reasons that many are calling for the reform of the accountability law and anti-corruption watchdog. In fact, NAB lost its credibility quite a while back and needs to be shut down.
Published in Dawn, February 29th, 2020