THE government seems determined to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Without an alternative system or appropriate measures in place to strengthen other government agencies and bodies that can take over the investigation and prosecution of corrupt practices, it seems to want to protect its own skin rather than revamp the NAB to prevent abuse of liability laws.
Under the first amendments to the NAB laws after the incumbent coalition government came to power, the accountability body had been barred from acting on any federal, provincial or local tax matters, and all regulators had also been placed outside his domain.
The government had further isolated the federal and provincial governments, including their committees and sub-committees, as well as the State Bank of Pakistan by placing their decisions outside the jurisdiction of the NAB unless it could show that the holders of public office had materially benefited from these decisions.
The NAB had also been advised that it could not act on any matter arising out of any procedural defect in the performance of any public or governmental work or function, project or program in the same conditions.
The previous government had already “exempted” bureaucrats and businessmen from NAB jurisdiction.
Now, the accountability watchdog has been told that any corruption case involving sum less than Rs 500 million will not fall under its purview; that the government itself will henceforth appoint responsible judges; that the accused will be tried in the territorial jurisdiction of the place where he committed the crime; and that NAB will no longer be able to seek the assistance of any government agency in connection with its investigations, among other things.
Although the government has recently appointed a respected former bureaucrat to lead the organization, it looks like he won’t have much to do.
Lily: NAB law changes could ‘favor’ PML-N leaders
There is no doubt that NAB had, over the years, cemented its reputation as a failing institution that did more harm than good. He became increasingly controversial due to his abuse of power, his failure to act without favor, and his repeated failure to conduct business professionally. Its arbitrary detention of politicians was widely seen as outright harassment.
The government expected him to either reform the NAB to prevent it from becoming a tool of political oppression or replace the watchdog with a better accountability mechanism. However, recent changes to its government laws go far beyond an attempt to reform the organization.
They give the impression that the parties in power only want to prevent any legal challenges they may face in the future. The haste with which the government is proceeding reinforces criticism that it is only interested in protecting the interests of its leaders.
This cannot be tolerated. If he doesn’t want NAB, so be it; but the government must share alternative plans on how it will end the endemic corruption in our state apparatus.
Posted in Dawn, August 5, 2022