National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Chairman Javed Iqbal on Thursday defended the watchdog's conduct after questions were raised in political circles on the whereabouts of the monetary recoveries worth hundreds of billions of rupees made by NAB.
In a parliamentary testimony on Nov 3, the Ministry of Finance had expressed complete ignorance about the whereabouts of over Rs821 billion, except Rs6.458bn, that the NAB claimed to have recovered since its inception some 16 years ago. The PPP had subsequently demanded a probe on the matter, while the NAB had issued a report detailing the recoveries it made since its inception in 1999.
Addressing a ceremony in Lahore, Iqbal termed the episode a "storm in a teacup". He said a bulk of the recoveries made by NAB were not in the form of currency bills but in physical assets such as property, land and wheat.
"A complete audit of NAB has been carried out three times, and with God's grace, apart from two to four ordinary lapses, nothing [unusual or strange] came to the fore," he said.
"So when this storm in a teacup was created then the ones responsible didn't know that NAB has kept a record of every single penny," Iqbal said.
The NAB chairman said in the four years under him the accountability watchdog registered 1,270 references involving a sum of Rs1,386 billion.
He said none of the references were "made up in the air", adding that the bureau would still be reviewing all the 1,270 references.
"Where NAB feels some that some references are very weak or very old and sometimes convictions don't happen because there are technical reasons [...] we are reviewing them again and if it is felt [that references are weak then we will close them]."
Responding to criticism on NAB cases not reaching their conclusion, the chairman said a case reaches its "logical end" when a reference is sent to the relevant court. He explained that deciding on cases was the job of accountability courts and not of the watchdog.
"If I had the authority to decide references then believe me it wouldn't have taken years."
He said that whatever amount was recovered by NAB was an amanat (entrusted property) with the watchdog and it had never thought of misappropriating it.
The NAB chief also complained about the media over the matter, saying that he should have been asked about the issue.
"Some people in politics want to keep themselves alive based on NAB and are alive based on it. Their morning starts with and their night ends on NAB."
Iqbal said there should be criticism of the institution but it should be principled and informed. He reiterated his claim that anyone who wanted to do so was free to check NAB's record and accounting.
"There is no shortage of issues in our country, [but] many non-issues related to NAB were made issues just to make the institution controversial because we dared to ask them where did the billions and trillions of funds come from.
"Some people couldn't even have imagined in their dreams that a time would come in Pakistan that they would be called and asked to tell where the amounts came from," the NAB chief said.
He also said that accusations against the watchdog should be substantiated with evidence. Iqbal condemned what he called "shameful propaganda" against NAB that was perpetuated with any evidence.
Responding to the accountability watchdog not taking action against government officials, he questioned how many requests had been submitted on the issue.
"If NAB has any sympathy then it's with the state and the country. The government comes and goes. There is no more unjust criticism than saying NAB is pro-government."
Iqbal said that if a complaint was filed today then he would take action on it within 48 hours. "There are no holy cows here for me," he pointed out.
The NAB chairman called upon people to hold themselves accountable, saying if they did so, there would be no need for institutions such as NAB and the Federal Investigation Agency. He added that no institution or individual could eliminate corruption on their own.