Fair accountability

Malik M Ashraf

The remarks of the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif about NAB while addressing party workers at Bahawalpur stirred quite a storm in the media and within the political circles. All sorts of motives were attributed to the alleged outburst against the accountability body by him and the significance of the timing of those remarks and it was also contended that the Prime Minister has no authority under law to direct NAB and the changes contemplated in the NAB law were out of sync with democracy.
In my view the critics have tried to read too much between the lines and most of the flak hurled at him was devoid of contextual relevance. To understand the issue in its proper perspective it would perhaps be pertinent to recall the actual words uttered by the Prime Minister. Reportedly he said” NAB must perform its duty responsibly. They barge into houses and offices of innocent people to harass them without looking into authenticity of cases. They dishonor people in unlawful cases, inflict hindrance, harass and terrify government officers. I have brought this issue in the notice of Chairman NAB who must take action otherwise the government will initiate necessary legal action”. One can hardly contest the view that under law the Prime Minister was not authorised to order NAB. But it is also equally hard to swallow the fact that NAB and its functionaries in certain cases have been exceeding their limits and it has failed to earn the reputation of an independent and impartial institution of accountability.
NAB was created by the former dictator for witch-hunt of the politicians who did not fall in line with his governing antics. This contributed immensely to the culture of NAB officials harassing and intimidating politicians and bureaucrats to share the booty with them and also exceeding their limits without solid evidence of corruption against them, with the sole purpose of extracting money from them. NAB unfortunately has not been able to off-load its baggage from the Musharraf era. The Prime Minister, as Chief Executive of the country and head of the government, cannot remain oblivious to the shenanigans of the government institutions like NAB.
He is very much entitled to express his opinion on the performance of any government institution and even make suggestions for improving its working or rectifying the maladies prevalent in it. His words to NAB were only a suggestion to act responsibly and not to exceed its limits. What is wrong with this advice? If media, politicians and commentators can comment on the decisions of the judiciary then why cannot a chief executive of the country pinpoint malpractices in an official body, no matter how independent it may be?
Government entities and bodies set up under the law and constitution must work within the law in a responsible manner. If a situation arises where it becomes evident that certain action on the part of the government was needed to improve the working of an organisation with a view to fulfilling demands of justice and protecting the citizens and government functionaries against discretionary and illegitimate actions of that entity, the government was very much entitled to initiate legal measures to rectify the situation with the approval of Parliament. Why to make so much fuss about the issue when there is a wide-spread discontentment about the working of NAB?. It must also be remembered that the legislation to reform NAB would be done by Parliament and not the government.
The issue surely would be thoroughly debated by all the political parties represented in the parliament to make sure that the proposed changes in the law were an appropriate and legitimate response to the shortcomings in the existing legal framework of NAB and ensured accountability in the true sense of the word. That would take care of the alleged reasons behind Prime Minister’s motivation to say what he said about NAB.
The country surely needs a flawless system of accountability and now that the government seems to have taken the initiative to reform it, the political parties, media and intelligentsia must try to come up with tangible and workable solutions and suggestions to improve the system of accountability, instead of focusing on the negatives and making the whole process controversial.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

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