FeaturedNationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 08

NAB’s new focus

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has decided to shift its focus on the ruling party after setting its radar on the opposition. However, the common man feels the accountability process is flawed, as it fails to bring powerful accused to the book.

The NAB has so far arrested people mainly from the opposition. Sources say the watchdog has completed investigations against some federal and provincial ministers of the ruling party and they could be arrested soon. It is also investigating Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar. However, the common people believe the accountability process is too week to prosecute powerful people while the opposition claims it is being targeted through “selected accountability.” NAB Chairman Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal has recently claimed that winds of change are moving throughout the country and no one should think the present rulers are exempted from accountability. He also criticised former ruling parties, the opposition, and their leaders for their failure to provide health, education and other facilities to the people of Pakistan in their eras. In a veiled jibe at former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, he said many people were sharing a single hospital bed in the country, while there were others who were going abroad for treatment if they get a cold. In another apparent critique of opposition parties, he said it was unfortunate that a child had died in his mother’s lap due to the unavailability of rabies vaccine in hospitals. He was referring to a video which went viral on social media in September. It showed a horrific incident in Shikarpur, Sindh, where an 11-year-old child died of rabies in his mother’s lap.

The corruption watchdog, particularly over the last one year, has come under criticism by the PML-N and the PPP for what they call “selected accountability” of their leadership in connivance with the ruling party. The PTI government had come to power on election promises of wide-ranging social and economic reforms. It has completed 14 months, but only accountability remains its prime focus while all other promises have vanished into thin air.

The common people have realized that the government has launched a vigorous campaign against corruption and many people have been arrested but it has not brought about change in their lives. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) receives over 40,000 complaints every year. Ideally, a complaint is processed within two months. The next step is inquiry, which should be processed in four months. In the investigation section, cases are investigated for further processing and it also takes four months to complete investigations. Critics say only few dozen cases reach the prosecution stage every year and the conviction rate is almost 7pc. It was also admitted by Prime Minister Imran Khan recently, when he assailed low rates of conviction in NAB cases and said it was 7pc in Pakistan while in Malaysia it was 90pc. He also hinted at changes in accountability laws to improve its performance. However, the NAB claims its conviction rate is 70pc. According to statistics, the NAB received 44,315 complaints last year and references involving Rs900 billion are still under trial in accountability courts. However, it failed to provide details of cases, which were investigated and prosecuted.

The government’s ownership of corruption cases against politicians is also maligning its image and has brought the NAB into disrepute. PTI ministers only speak about corruption cases in press conferences and seminars and ignore other issues of the people. Accountability is a lengthy process and the curse is entrenched in society and politics. It will take decades of concerted efforts to dent the problem. The government should reform the NAB under the guidelines of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and leave the accountability process to it. People are fed up with the accountability mantra and demand resolution to their problems. The government should focus on practical measures to resolve their issues.

Analysts say the government will have to concentrate on public issues and their resolution, as it cannot use corruption as an excuse for inaction any more. The PTI announced revolutionary reforms to improve education, health, revenue generation, investment, employment, agriculture, federation, environment, tourism and justice, and to eradicate corruption. Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his inaugural speech, had announced making Pakistan a welfare state. Prime Minister Imran Khan seems to be out of sync with the enormity of the challenges and problems facing the leadership.

The PTI government had promised 100m jobs in five years. Instead, thousands of people have lost their jobs in the private sector. Private businesses are making lay-offs to offset their declining profit margins. If the confidence of the business community is not restored, there would be huge unemployment in six months. A large number of people, associated with different professions, are losing jobs as even the government’s top-most priority area, the housing sector, is badly hit during the PTI tenure. Real estate, housing, private societies’ developers, builders and construction businesses are in extremely bad shape and a large number of people have lost their jobs in recent months.

Experts say housing societies and builders have started retrenchment as their businesses were affected because of inconsistency in government policies, political situation, alleged harassment by the NAB and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), the bureaucracy’s reluctance to sign files and take even legitimate decisions, rupee’s devaluation and high costs of construction. Thousands have also lost jobs in the media industry while there are a number of media houses, which have not paid their employees for months.

Analysts say inflation is the highest in the last five years and growth is the lowest in nine years. It has badly affected the lowest income groups, which form the biggest numerical bloc among the working class. Critics believe Imran Khan has no plan to revive the economy and fulfil his election promises. The opposition blames the government for victimization through the accountability drive. In the situation, the government should leave the accountability process to the departments concerned and concentrate on resolving issues of the people or their confidence in democracy will shatter.