Political victimization, thy name is NAB

By Nasir Mahmood

There is no denying that our country needs an independent accountability process so that it can be purged of the corruption that is gnawing at the roots of our society. Every political party and the civil society members are unanimously agreed on it. Then why this ever-increasing hue and cry over the working of the NAB, which is an accountability bureau?. Reason being it is not independent as it was supposed to be. Rather it has tuned into just a ploy used by the government as a tool to victimize its political opponents for reasons other than corruption.
As a matter of fact, NAB has a very dubious track record since its formation under Gen Pervez Musharraf.  That it is ploy in hands of rulers can be gauged from the utterances of the current PML-N stalwart Perwaiz Rashid, who has not only expressed reservations about certain NAB laws but has also said that ‘NAB was founded by Musharraf to victimize their party and to scare away its leaders from the party in the name of accountability in 1999′.
Similarly the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government sometime back amended certain accountability laws in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and had also sacked the provincial Ehtesab Commission chief as well simply because the way they worked was not in tune with their responsibilities.
And last but not the least, the political victimization of the PPP stalwarts by the government through NAB is before us. Many an independent observers are of the view that since long the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is pursuing a political agenda to victimize Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leaders. The allegations have also come from major political leaders. It has not only started a media trial of the various PPP leaders including Sharjeel Inam Memon, Dr Asim Hussain, Abdul Qadir Baloch and other party leaders, but has opened a plethora of fabricated cases which it is finding difficult to prove as they are devoid of truth.
This is nothing but political victimization. The way NAB has taken unilateral action against PPP lawmakers speaks volume of the situation. These are politically motivated cases. Even the process of inquiry against the PPP leaders is biased and is just aimed at scaring away these leaders. The way they are being humiliated and subjected to extreme torture in detention to excrete statements of their choices tell volume of the sinister intentions of the rulers, who are misusing and abusing the very concept of accountability.
As a matter of fact, accountability is an aspect that is of vital importance in the running of today’s democracies. The political machinery of today needs to include organisations that can efficiently control and manage monetary corruption and economic terrorism. This is necessary for fair and equal governance, because a successful democracy includes transparency, and the democracy should also include rulers who should not hesitate to be held accountable because they supposed to care for the masses. But here we are faced with a strange phenomenon.  NAB is appreciated when it targets the rulers’ political adverseries, but when the same bureau puts hand on the rulers house, they start crying foul and make a hue and cry.
This is because of many of the unjust activities of the powerful bureau on the direction of rulers that people have started to realize the truth.
Basically, organisations such as NAB role should be to ensure that a holistic and comprehensive approach is taken to identify, prevent and control financial crimes taking place in the country irrespective of Who Is Who? This involves and encompasses all sectors of the country, including state-owned companies, private organisations, the LEAs, and other bodies too.
But in our country, it is a one-way traffic, specified only for the political opponents of the government.
The point of consideration is to what extent is it successful in terms of its impartiality and unbaised, and whether or not it functions according to the framework of Pakistan.
Keeping this in mind, one can quickly come to the conclusion that presently, there have been many concerns and rightly so that various people and groups have raised regarding NAB’s activities in the country. And they are right to greater extent as it is has become an organisation which has become a tool for the government. That’s why it is working in an inhumane way, as it is only targeting the political opponents of the rulers.
Moreover, people also pointed out the fact that NAB is involved in political victimisation of few people, and had ignored the fact that other individuals also need to be checked for corruption and frauds.
The recent opinion against NAB has come from the prime minister himself, and his statement against the organisation focuses around the notion that NAB is being ‘irresponsible’ in the way it is conducting its activities. This has left many people wondering as it was a result of NAB spreading its wings into the province of Punjab and probing into projects that are happening because of the government’s involvement and interest. These projects include the Metro Bus, and Orange Train initiatives.
The purpose to say is the PM wants NAB remain confined to Sindh alone. All the rest of provinces are free from corruption.
So what can be done to get rid of this situation?
Off late, there was some optimism in the air regarding setting right the NAB’s affairs. On the positive side is that the Senate standing committee on law and justice reached a consensus recently to curtail powers of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) so that it could not lay hands on provincial departments and deal with issues falling into provincial domain.
But the chairman of the committee deferred (a final decision on) the matter till next meeting.
This attitude indicates that the federal government wants to keep provinces in its clutches. Therefore it is not ready to curtail unjustified powers of the NAB,” Taj Haider, the mover of the National Accountability (amendment) Bill-2015, rightly pointed out after the meeting.
He rightly said that though there was a consensus in the meeting on the proposed bill envisaging no interference of NAB into provincial departments, the matter was deferred till the next meeting.
One may agree with Mr Haider, who was quoted as saying, “I believe that misusing accountability law for political victimisation is the highest form of corruption.”
Mr Haider said that nobody could defend corruption committed by politicians but it was a fact that ‘the establishment is the fountainhead of corruption’.
After the 18th Amendment, federal laws could not be implemented in the provinces, he said and added that the (federal) government could not make any law which was contrary to the Constitution.
It may be recalled here that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as opposition leader during the previous PPP government had promised to repeal NAB laws while agreeing that they were used for political victimisation. But now that he is in power, he is defending the laws.
The bill’s says: “It is essential that all statutory organisations must act strictly within the parameters laid by the Constitution of Pakistan and there should be no transgression or interference in matters pertaining to the provinces.”
Initially, the government did not oppose the motion for tabling the bill in the Senate and allowed the chairman to refer it to the committee. But now it seems to be reluctant to support the opposition’s move.
It may be recalled here that the National Assembly has also questioned the role of NAB and called for making it a “fair and transparent” accountability mechanism. While raising the matter regarding the performance of NAB on the floor of the House, Imran Zafar Laghari of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) severally criticised the role of NAB and said the interference of NAB in provinces is illegal and unconstitutional.
“It is a national action plan of NAB to blackmail and to change the political loyalty,” he rightly claimed. Laghari said, we have to sit together and evolve a mechanism to improve the accountability system to eradicate corruption in the country.
It may be recalled here that the Prime Minister criticised the role of NAB when the cases of Prime Minister, Finance Minister and the Punjab Chief Minister came under the spotlight.  But when the same bureau enganged in probe against PPP stalwarts, the PM appreciates it. These are more than double standard. It’s mere victimization and highhandeness.
In a nutshell, there is a need to make the accountability system fair, transparent and prestigious.
Even the NAB Chairman, sometime back, has also admitted that there is a need to improve the accountability system.
Experts also question the presence of NAB on other ground. They point to a recent newspapers report which says that for every Rs 100 of the corruption money that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) returns to the national exchequer, it charges the nation Rs 158 for doing so.
NAB Annual Report 2014 shows that the total amount that NAB has deposited in the national exchequer since 2000 is Rs 6.7 billion while the total amount that NAB has spent since 2000 is Rs 10.6 billion.
All the above-discussed points clearly require to be taken into consideration so that the NAB, which is currently being used for ‘political victimization’ and to split the political parties, can be turned into a true transparent body.