NationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 02

Nabbing the NAB

The government has decided to limit the scope of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to holders of public offices only. It means bureaucrats will be given a free hand to misappropriate public money. The move will also promote corruption in politics, because it is the bureaucracy that teaches politicians how to steal from the national kitty.


Under a proposed amendment to the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), commonly known as the NAB law, the government will strip the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) of powers to investigate the affairs of persons other than holders of public offices. The government claims the amendment aims at “rationalising” the NAB law and “exclude private persons from the NAB jurisdiction”. “Someone who has never held a public office and is also not related to a holder of public office, being a private person he/she should not be under the jurisdiction of the NAB,” Federal Law Minister Barrister Farogh Nasim told a press conference.


The government believes businesspersons should be subject to relevant laws of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in case they are involved in tax evasion and other financial irregularities. The graft watchdog might also be barred from interfering in matters relating to financial disputes between private parties because the organisation was created mainly to investigate mega-corruption cases.


A proposed amendment would empower the accountability courts to grant bail to a NAB accused, which is not permissible under the current law. Under the NAO of 1999, there is no provision for grant of bail to a NAB suspect; as a result, a suspect has to file a petition under the Article 199 with a high court to seek a bail. A citizen can invoke the Article 199 and file a petition with a high court to enforce fundamental rights when there is no remedy available under the law.


The law ministry is also working on redefining the provisions related to voluntary return of the embezzled amount and release of a person under a plea bargain. According to the government, the proposed amendments had been drafted keeping in view recent judgments of Chief Justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed.


Meanwhile, NAB Chairman Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal has announced that the anti-corruption watchdog will not pursue cases pertaining to income tax or sales tax against members of the business community. In a press release, the NAB chairman said that ongoing cases against businesspeople would be sent to the Federal Board of Revenue and notices recently issued to owners of flour mills by the anti-corruption watchdog’s Multan office were suspended with immediate effect. He said he would personally look into the matter. “The NAB is a people and business-friendly institution and gives top priority to solving problems being faced by the business community,” the press release quoted the NAB chairman as saying. His comments came after a meeting with a delegation of businesspeople, headed by Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry President Daroo Khan Achakzai, at the NAB headquarters. The NAB Executive Board has also started referring petty cases to the provinces or other authorities after it was asked recently by the federal government to deal only with mega corruption cases.


The federal cabinet has decided to make some procedural changes in the working of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to provide a conducive environment for business activities and investment for the revival of the crippling economy. “In the light of complaints of the business community against the NAB, the federal cabinet discussed how the practice of arm-twisting and threatening of businesspeople by some NAB officials can be thwarted,” Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan told a press conference after a cabinet meeting. The cabinet observed that businesspeople were afraid of the NAB and not investing their money. It said business activities had come to a halt and the economy crippled due to the fear of the NAB.


Two task forces on civil service reforms — austerity and restructuring — have recommended that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) should not proceed against a serving or retired civil servant without the approval of supervisory committees at the federal and provincial levels. It was proposed that no investigation or reference be initiated or no arrest made of a person unless the NAB has placed the prima facie cause before a supervisory committee for its approval to proceed with the reference, investigation or arrest. The supervisory committee would assist the bureau in filtering out the investigation process by deciding whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed with investigation or arrest by the NAB.


A person being proceeded against would include anyone who is or has been in the service of the state, which would include contractual or ex-officio appointments. The supervisory committees would consist of a retired judge of a high court, three persons who have served as secretary to the federal government or in an equivalent position and whose retirement from service occurred at least two years before the date of appointment to the supervisory committee, a senior chartered accountant, a senior banker, and a senior civil engineer, a domain specialist who can be co-opted. It was also proposed that a 15-member parliamentary committee would choose the members of the supervisory committees through a majority vote. Members of the parliamentary committee would be nominated by the heads of parliamentary parties having more than 10 members in parliament.


It is clear that the government wants to amend NAB laws to facilitate the bureaucracy and businesspeople. The move to provide relief to the bureaucracy was initiated after it started sitting on files of development projects. The government says bureaucrats, who are afraid of the NAB, do not sign files of development projects, thus hindering public welfare. The relief to businesspeople aims to revive the economy. The government might have a justification for the amendments, but they would only promote corruption. Bureaucrats are the engine of corruption in Pakistan. They also encourage politicians to commit corruption. No politician can commit corruption without their abetment. The proposal to give a free hand to businesspeople will also promote corruption in society. Thousands of graft cases of housing societies, launched by businesspeople, and millions of their victims still wait for justice.