Re­form­ing NAB

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL -

PRIME Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif's crit­i­cism of the Na­tional Ac­count­abil­ity Bureau has set off a heated de­bate in the coun­try on the preva­lence of cor­rup­tion in the coun­try and the role and ef­fi­ciency of the ma­chin­ery to fight it. Speak­ing at a pub­lic func­tion in Ba­hawalpur last week he said that his govern­ment will take pre-emp­tive ac­tion if NAB did not stop "ha­rass­ing" govern­ment of­fi­cers. He said that the fear of NAB was pre­vent­ing bu­reau­crats from tak­ing de­ci­sions, sign­ing on pro­ject files. Nawaz Sharif also threat­ened to "clip the wings" of the Na­tional Ac­count­abil­ity Bureau if it did not stay within lim­its. Ob­servers have ex­pressed sur­prise over the PM's state­ment as Nawaz Sharif in his pre­vi­ous state­ments had crit­i­cized NAB for not do­ing enough to fight the spread­ing can­cer of cor­rup­tion in the coun­try.

But now he has turned around and ac­cused the ac­count­abil­ity watch­dog of ex­ceed­ing its man­date. The Prime Min­is­ter's out­burst has been de­scribed by op­po­si­tion par­ties as po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated and self serv­ing. Sen­a­tor Farhat­ul­lah Babar has pointed out that that the Prime Min­is­ter did not pay any heed when PPP ac­cused NAB of trans­gress­ing its au­thor­ity in Sindh. But now that NAB has made a move to take ac­tion against cor­rupt el­e­ments in Pun­jab, he is cry­ing foul. NAB has been very ac­tive for some time and brought to light mega cor­rup­tion cases in Sindh in­volv­ing Dr Asim Hus­sain and other PPP stal­warts. For some time NAB has turned its at­ten­tion to Pun­jab and is look­ing into PML-N's projects -the LNG deal, Metro Bus, Or­ange Train, LDA City and Raiwind Road con­struc­tion. The govern­ment is said to be spe­cially dis­turbed over NAB's in­ves­ti­ga­tions into cer­tain mega projects be­ing car­ried out in Pun­jab. NAB has also ar­rested five in­flu­en­tial peo­ple al­legedly in­volved in the em­bez­zle­ment of Rs850 mil­lion. In ad­di­tion, there are other re­ports of on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions into kick­backs in­volv­ing blue-eyed bu­reau­crats in some high-pro­file projects.

It may be re­called here that the cur­rent Chair­man NAB, Ch Qa­mar Za­man, was ap­pointed through a bi­par­ti­san agree­ment be­tween PML-N and PPP on Oc­to­ber 10, 2013 and is due to re­tire in Oc­to­ber 10, 2017. NAB chair­man­ship is a ten­ure-based con­sti­tu­tional po­si­tion of four years and the holder of the of­fice can be re­moved only by the Supreme Ju­di­cial Coun­cil. The Na­tional Ac­count­abil­ity Bureau op­er­ates un­der the Na­tional Ac­count­abil­ity Or­di­nance 1999, and its sole pur­pose is to elim­i­nate cor­rup­tion us­ing what is de­scribed as a holis­tic ap­proach that en­com­passes "aware­ness, preven­tion and en­force­ment". Ap­par­ently, it is the en­force­ment part of its man­date that is giv­ing sleep­less nights to the rulers.

It is clear that the Prime Min­is­ter does not have the ex­ec­u­tive au­thor­ity to sack the NAB chair­man. So, the move now is to cur­tail his pow­ers through leg­is­la­tion. The par­lia­men­tary over­sight is likely to be tight­ened un­der the fresh amend­ments to the Na­tional Ac­count­abil­ity Or­di­nance 1999 be­ing fi­nal­ized by the govern­ment. There is also a pro­posal to com­pletely scrap the Or­di­nance, a relic of the mar­tial law govern­ment, and re­place it with a new law to be passed by Par­lia­ment. It will not be dif­fi­cult for the govern­ment to muster the re­quired ma­jor­ity for the new law as, be­sides its al­lies, PPP which is not happy with NAB will also sup­port it. No doubt, there are flaws in the cur­rent ac­count­abil­ity law. But, in­stead of re­mov­ing its short­com­ings, an at­tempt is be­ing made to emas­cu­late the ac­count­abil­ity process. This is against the ba­sic spirit of democ­racy which is in­sep­a­ra­ble from trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity. In an en­vi­ron­ment which is cor­rupt to the core, pro­vid­ing good gov­er­nance is the need of the hour. So, in­stead of join­ing hands against ac­count­abil­ity to save the sa­cred cows, the politi­cians need to act in the larger pub­lic in­ter­est.

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