The government and the opposition decided to appoint Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal as the new National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman after consultation for weeks. The new chief of the national graft-busting body faces immense challenges as he will have to satisfy both the government and the opposition, without showing bias against or towards any party.
His task will be particularly difficult after NAB is already probing cases against the Sharif family. After the joint investigation team (JIT) report, it will have to investigate more cases of people of the government and the opposition and both would criticize it if it performed its duties diligently. If both remained happy with it, the real opposition, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan, will not spare it. The former NAB chairman remained controversial from the start. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) accused him of being soft on the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N). It was largely true as he targeted mostly PPP leaders in Sindh. The PML-N and its home province were out of bounds for him. NAB, under him, remained under fire for its plea bargains. The Supreme Court of Pakistan called NAB a dead institution during the Panama case hearing against the Sharif family. The former chairman was also savaged over the Hudabiya Paper Mills money laundering case.
Under the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999, the appointment of the NAB chairman is made by the prime minister in consultation with the leader of the opposition. The search for the new NAB chairman started a few months ago after the media feared cases against the Sharif family could be delayed if a fresh appointment was not made. Former NAB Chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry was considered to be a loyalist of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It is said he was appointed under a plan to give clean chits to leaders of the ruling party and the PPP. Subsequently, former President Asif Ali Zardari was cleared of all charges against him. His acquittal in an illegal assets case, which was the last corruption case against him, triggered debate in the country on the process of accountability and the efficacy of NAB. Besides flawed investigations by NAB, lack of substantial evidence and witnesses presented before the court resulted in his acquittal. Conflicting statements of the witnesses also weakened the prosecution’s case. The original record of his bank accounts and offshore companies was not presented before the court and the prosecutor failed to prove that the assets belonged to the former president.
It appears the two parties have struck a secret deal not to pursue cases against each other. The last PPP government never initiated proceedings against the Sharif brothers in money laundering or corruption cases, which had been pending for years. It also failed to pursue the Asghar Khan case. It is said that the then President Asif Zardari had specifically ordered his ministers not to reopen the pending corruption and money laundering cases against Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif. Besides, despite a clear Supreme Court order in the Asghar Khan case, the PPP government did not initiate investigations against the Sharifs for allegedly receiving huge amounts of money from the ISI. The then PPP government forced NAB not to pursue cases against the Sharifs and when an application was filed in an accountability court for reopening the cases in 2009, the accountability court sought the opinion of the NAB chairman, which was mandatory under the law. He avoided expressing his opinion because of strict government orders. The PML-N paid back the favours when it came to power in 2013, and Asif Zardari was acquitted in all corruption cases.
When the consultation began for the NAB chairman, the government suggested the names of Justice (retd) Rehmat Jafri, Justice (retd) Ijaz Chaudhry and Intelligence Bureau Director-General Aftab Sultan, while the leader of the opposition Khursheed Shah proposed the names of Justice (retd) Faqeer Muhammad Khokhar, Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal and former Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Secretary Ishtiak Ahmad. The PTI rejected all six names and proposed former Intelligence Bureau chief Dr. Shoaib Suddle, Justice (retd) Falak Sher and former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Secretary Shahzad Arbab Shahzad for the post.
The new chairman has a long list of challenges. From the payment of Rs480b circular debt to the Nandipur, Neelum Jhelum power projects, Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park in Bahawalpur, Metro train and buses, laptop scheme and almost Rs1b expenditure from the national exchequer on the Raiwind Palace are glaring examples of corruption. The record of the Lahore and Multan metro bus projects was burnt even before they were launched to avoid audit.
According to a US State Department report, Pakistan loses more than $10b a year to trade-based money laundering. According to the Swiss National Bank, Pakistanis have stashed more money in Swiss banks and bought properties worth billions of rupees abroad in recent years even after the onset of the Panama Leaks. According to another report, Pakistani politicians and bureaucrats have acquired properties worth Rs700 billion in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the last few years. Over $9 billion are illegally remitted outside Pakistan, according to the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP). Estimates say tax evaders have stashed up to $200bn in Switzerland.
Sources say the government has accepted the nomination of the PPP under a deal, which was allegedly negotiated by a business tycoon, who is considered very close to former President Asif Ali Zardari. Under the deal, the PPP will help the PML-N form the next government at the Centre, while the PML-N would provide all possible help to set up a PPP government in Sindh. The PPP also wants a lion’s share in the next Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government.
There is a general perception that Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, influenced by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and opposition leader Khursheed Shah, who receives directions from former President Asif Ali Zardari, could not afford to appoint an honest and strict person for the NAB top slot. Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal will have to work really hard to prove the perception wrong.