Narratives asked three top experts – General (retd) Amjab Shoaib, former Attorney General Shah Khawar and former NAB official Shehzad Anwar Bhatti – to give their views on this month’s Big Question.
Changes to benefit those facing corruption charges
The recent amendment to National Accountability Bureau (NAB) laws is morally and ethically incorrect because the changes have been made by a coterie of people (parliamentarians) who have been facing corruption charges. How can “NAB-wanted and haunted” people amend the laws? Basically, the current rulers, mostly facing corruption charges and under trial have made changes to the NAB laws to cover up their own corruption and save their ill-gotten money which they have laundered abroad.
Under the amended NAB law, cases pending beyond five years cannot be opened but the fact is that all cases against the rulers including Shehbaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari older than five years. It means, under the new law, they are immune from inquiry and investigation. Most politicians have laundered money and cases against them are genuine and they cannot be let go.
The second thing is that the NAB officers are not only unqualified but also take bribes from lawyers of the accused to make a weak case against them. NAB officials never make serious efforts to make a strong case against the accused especially politicians and that is why cases linger on and politicians end up being exonerated. The NAB officers leave many loopholes in inquiries and filing references and at times, they approach the lawyers of the accused to tell them about the gaps in cases so that the counsel for the accused picks up and challenges those weak points in the court to get maximum advantage including zero sentences to acquittals.
Interestingly, in SGS-Cotecna references against Asif Zardari, the NAB presented photocopies instead of original documents pertaining to the award of pre-shipment contracts in which the accused had received a six per cent kickback. The NAB on purpose made a weak case against Zardari and he was acquitted. There is a need to form a joint investigation team (JIT) to oversee the performance of every NAB official and the institution at large. The JIT must evaluate the performance of the NAB officers and the conviction ratio and the poor performers (NAB officers) must be punished and done away with and terminated. The NAB officers should be held accountable for poor performance and their involvement in corruption, poor inquiry and their collusion with the lawyers of the accused, which is tarnishing the name of the anti-graft body.
The money-laundering cases against politicians, business tycoons and their henchmen are genuine and the NAB has solid evidence of most cases. Money-laundering cases are needed to be taken up at the earliest and those who have laundered the money are prosecuted so that they could be forced to bring their laundered money to Pakistan. The NAB’s plea-bargain law has opened the door for the corrupt and crooks who steal public money and indulge in corruption in billions of rupees and end up getting released after the plea-bargain under which they return a pittance against what they have plundered and looted. There must be a fair system for the recovery of the looted money and the culprits must complete their term behind bars so that others could learn a lesson and avoid stealing and robbing the public money, laundering and stashing them abroad.
NAB should be revived with a fresh flood
The latest amendments to the NAB laws are a good decision under which the physical remand of an accused has been brought to 14 days instead of the 90 days which was uncalled for and a lame excuse to keep the accused under habeas corpus.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government also made three amendments to the NAB laws after civil servants stopped to work in protest against the bullying of the NAB and traders also expressed their reservations against the NAB’s highhandedness.
Currently, the performance of the NAB’s investigation wing is almost zero which makes weak cases against the accused, most of who get bail while taking advantage of the loopholes. The NAB has become one of the most corrupt entities in the country with its own officers involved in corruption from head-to-toe. The lack of accountability of officers in the NAB has let them a free hand to indulge in corruption and take bribes which have adversely affected its overall performance.
The NAB under the chairmanship of former chairman Qamar Zaman inducted and hired incompetent and recommended persons who were just master’s degree holders and not law graduates. At that time, even people holding master’s degrees in the subjects of Punjabi, Pashtu and Baloch were inducted into key posts and they knew nothing about the law, prosecution and constitution. Officers inducted at the time of Qamar Zaman and by the successive NAB authorities have now been promoted to the rank of assistant directors, directors and directors-generals. Even stenographers and typists have been promoted to the rank of directors not based on their performance but because of their seniority and service in the NAB, which is a blatant joke and a mockery of justice.
Though the NAB, after incessant complaints, dismissed several officers on corruption and bribe charges over the years, most corrupt individuals, who are the blue-eyed of the current NAB chairman, continue to work with impunity even though inquiries against them were going-on for years but without any cogent results. The NAB is needed to be purged from such elements or it is disbanded
This is ironic that we expect good performance from the lot who had been inducted without a rigorous test and interview. This has resulted in the overall degeneration of the NAB as the anti-graft and accountability entity. The NAB is allocating less than 15 per cent of its overall budget for investigation and prosecution while a whooping sum is allocated on the administrative side and for other perks and privileges of the officers.
The NAB is needed to be done away with and it should be replaced with an entity with fresh inductions of highly qualified and competent people who could investigate matters on merit. The NAB has lost its utility and it has become a white elephant and a burden on the exchequer. Successive governments have used the NAB as a tool for political victimisation of opponents and people have no faith in its integrity. Interestingly, the NAB prosecutors are allowed to keep the recovered amount in the anti-corruption body’s official account during the investigation of a case or until the last stage of the investigation, instead of the account of the federal government. As a result, NAB officials deposit the initially recovered money in banks and earn interest which definitely be going to someone’s pocket instead of the national exchequer. This practice should immediately be stopped and the recovered sum should be deposited in the national exchequer.
Lack of mechanism to probe govt
After amending the NAB laws, the current coalition government has handicapped the anti-graft body and virtually it has been rendered rudderless. Previously, the army and the judiciary were out of the ambit of the NAB’s accountability but now matters of taxation at the federal and provincial level, decisions of the federal or provincial cabinets, their committee, sub-committees, national economic council, national finance commission and the State Bank of Pakistan and other sectors have been excluded from the perusal of the anti-graft body.
Under the amendment, the NAB cannot open or investigate cases involving a sum of less than Rs500 million. It means that those who will be involved in embezzling or misappropriation of a sum of less than Rs500 will have blanket impunity because no other mechanism has been devised to probe financial wrongdoings of less than Rs500 million. Interestingly, it has not been defined who will define or decide how much money has been misappropriated.
The new NAB law will have retrospective effect and it will apply to the date of promulgation of the original National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999, and once become the law, those who are facing corruption cases will benefit the most and up to 90 per cent of cases at the inquiry, investigation or trial stage will automatically come to a halt and the current ruling clique will benefit from it because most cases are against the leadership of political parties who are currently in power.
Currently, there is no law or mechanism in place to probe cases of the ruling government and under the new NAB law, cases beyond five years cannot be opened. It means the current government has given a shield and protection to all its actions because corruption cases only surface once the government is out of power and a new government starts inquiries. Most of the time, the new government has to take two to three years to put together evidence and by the time a case is sent to the NAB, it takes three to four years and in the fifth year, a new government comes to power and the previous cases remain pending. Under the new law, those facing will automatically benefit if a probe is dragged for more than five years.
Under the new NAB law, accountability of the corrupt has been rendered almost impossible as it has shifted the burden on the whistleblower or the informant to prove the charges against those who have amassed the wealth through corruption or whatsoever means. After such sweeping changes in the NAB laws, the anti-graft body should be done away with and closed forever.
The induction of prosecutors for three years is another loophole as part of the amendment as people will join the NAB for a certain period to make their own profile strong. The prosecutors should be hired for an extended period and they should be enumerated according to the nature of their job so that they could deliver.
There should be no pick and choose policy, which is currently vague and unworkable, and accountability should be carried out across the board and nobody should be a holy cow. The NAB’s prosecution wing is not trained in probing white-collar crime and the anti-graft body’s prosecutors need a comprehensive training
Notwithstanding flaws and drawbacks, the NAB has carried out a tremendous job in the five years or so and billions of rupees were recovered and deposited into the exchequer of the federal and provincial governments. Similarly, the NAB has recovered billions of rupees from fake and dubious housing societies and schemes and the recovered money had directly been returned to the people and the investors, whose money had been looted. The NAB is needed to be made a truly independent entity to probe cases against all and sundry.