• Bureau looking for deputationists from investigating agencies, other government departments to fill gaps in its ranks
• More than 30 officers on deputation in other departments; deputy chairman, prosecutor general’s posts also empty
ISLAMABAD: Amid the reopening of hundreds of accountability cases in the wake of a recent Supreme Court order, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) finds itself short of staff to handle the expected mountain of paperwork as a major chunk of its officers are currently on deputation to other departments, Dawn has learnt.
A source said that more than 30 NAB officers have been sent to other departments, on deputation, over the past eight to ten months.
Faced with a mammoth task, sources say the accountability watchdog has now asked for the services of officers from various other departments and government agencies, ostensibly to fill the gaps left by the departure of the deputationists.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a NAB official told Dawn that the bureau had sought the services of officials from intelligence agencies, such as Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI), as well as personnel from the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP).
The official said that following the departure of the officers, who were assigned to NAB on deputation, there was a need for personnel in the areas of forensic audit and investigation, as well as experts in tax matters.
Insiders say that the Intelligence and Vigilance Cell (IVC) of NAB was previously headed by a serving intelligence officer, but a number of deputationists from other agencies who had been serving at NAB had been returned to their parent departments after the clipping of its powers under legislation enacted by the previous government.
The amendment had inserted a minimum pecuniary jurisdiction of Rs500 million, barring NAB from taking cognisance of offences of corruption and corrupt practices involving an amount less than Rs500 million.
After regaining its lost powers under the final apex court order issued by former chief justice Umar Ata Bandial, the bureau seems to be flexing its muscles in a bid to lay hands on bigwigs involved in white-collar crimes.
Dawn reached out to a NAB spokesperson for comment, but did not receive a response.
Experience and exposure
The loss of manpower was the outcome of a policy decision taken by incumbent NAB chairman, retired Lt Gen Nazir Ahmed Butt.
In a letter sent to Establishment Division Secretary Inamullah Khan in June this year, seen by Dawn, the NAB chief had sought the induction of his officers into other departments.
Recalling that NAB was Pakistan’s apex anti-corruption organisation, assigned the responsibility of eliminating corruption, he had noted: “Due to very limited exposure to other government departments and agencies, NAB, over time, has transformed into a very disconnected organisation. The opportunity of organisational diffusion, as happened in other ministries/departments, through deputation of officers, is either negligible or none for NAB officers”.
“I am, therefore, of the view that the federal government must consider some arrangements, wherein a quota in different federal government entities, is kept that allows well-rounded grooming of NAB employees, especially BS-18 to BS-21, on two-years deputation basis,” he wrote.
The chairman was of the view that the nature of work undertaken by NAB officers was closely related to the mandate of departments and agencies such as FBR, FIA, SBP, SECP, audit and accounts etc, and that deputation to these departments would equip officers with hands-on experience.
The borrowing departments too, he wrote, would benefit from the experience of NAB deputationists.
While this may have seemed like a good idea at the time for the capacity building of the institution, the situation completely changed last week after the Supreme Court struck down the PDM-era legislation and restored NAB powers to take cognisance of cases worth less than Rs500m.
In the light of the apex court’s decision, NAB has again sent around 1,800 references of top politicians and bureaucrats, on which decisions were pending, to the relevant accountability courts.
The top court virtually reopened about 1,800 closed cases; however, cases that have already been settled or disposed of will not be opened by the accountability watchdog.
Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2023