A farce called NAB

Published May 8, 2020

NAB IS once more in the dock, literally. The PML-Q leadership — the ruling PTI’s ally — has challenged before the Lahore High Court a NAB decision to reopen a 20-year-old inquiry against Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi. The inquiry pertains to allegations of misuse of authority, assets beyond means and wilful default under the National Accountability Ordinance 1999 against the petitioners. The three probes had been recommended for closure by investigators in 2017 and 2018 but were reopened last year. The Chaudhry duo claim that the NAB chairman doesn’t have a single piece of evidence or material to form an opinion under the ordinance and authorise an investigation. They have also challenged the accountability body’s jurisdiction to invoke the money-laundering law against them. But has the lack of credible evidence ever deterred NAB from (re)opening a probe, arresting a person or overstepping its authority in general?

The petitioners argue that the bureau’s credibility and partiality had been the subject of public debate because of its use for political engineering, and maintain that the order against them was meant to “contain and cage” them and limit their party’s role in politics. They point out that even the superior judiciary had taken notice of NAB’s conduct and the manner in which its officials exercised their powers in the past. This sounds familiar. The Chaudhrys aren’t the first or the last casualty of the accountability body, which allegedly helped the powers that be to engineer the 2018 polls, demoralised bureaucracy and dampened business sentiments long before the Covid-19 contagion struck the economy. It is just that it has hit closer to the homes of those who thought they were protected against the bureau’s high-handedness. NAB’s poor track record in solving cases on the basis of solid evidence should be a matter of massive embarrassment for the anti-graft watchdog, which has lost its credibility, if, indeed, it ever had any. Realising the negative impact of its accountability drive on the economy, the government had a few months ago issued an ordinance to selectively clip the bureau’s powers to proceed against bureaucrats and businessmen. But that has not solved the problem. The accountability law that provides for NAB’s creation is a bad law and no change will ever give it credibility. The law needs to be repealed and the bureau shut down for the sake of ending this farce and creating an atmosphere where people can feel safe regardless of their political affiliations.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2020

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