Impact of NAB amendments: Future anti-corruption strategy
NO country can prosper without having the zero tolerance against corruption and corrupt practices. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s standing in corruption in world corruption index is very poor.
Despite crossing 75 years of independence, we as a nation and the government particularly have not been able to decide a common and comprehensive legislation with firm commitment and strong implementation mechanism for controlling and minimizing the corruption in the country and to successfully prosecute those who are involved in this menace.
Since the inception of NAB legislation, the role and performance of NAB as an institution has been severely under criticism not by the affecters but also by the experts and courts, and this criticism has well reasons grounds both for initiation of cases, investigation & plea bargaining and on the prosecution and trial sides.
There has also been simultaneously widely reported consistently in different media sections that NAB as an institution or their officials had misused their mandate, authority and NAB as institution been involved in political engineering as observed in one of cases by the Supreme Court.
The present amendments have been made in this backdrop but to some extent it could be considered as reactionary for the previous actions and performance of NAB.
The new amendments made in NAB Ordinance has given a great impact on different provisions of NAB law both on procedures and trials which including the exclusion of jurisdiction of NAB being as an institution on certain categories of offences but also has given legal effects to the jurisdiction of NAB courts on their pending proceedings & references, as Parliament has given the effect of new amendments both on the pending proceedings before NAB and courts with retrospective effect from 1985 onwards as per section (1) of sub-section (2) of the new amendment in NAB Ordinance, would be a moot point for legal consideration in legal battle before the upcoming proceedings of Supreme Court, where the matter is pending.
As the new amendments introduced in NAB Ordinance 1999 have been challenged soon after their promulgation before the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and after few hearings, it has been cognizant by Supreme Court while issuing notices to the Federation, Attorney General and other respondents, thus the decision of Supreme Court of these challenged proceedings would have great legal impact from such date when such amendments were passed by Parliament and but would also have legal impact on action or inaction being performed either by NAB or by NAB courts especially the returning of references on grounds of exclusion of jurisdiction by NAB courts in pursuance of recent amendments in NAB Ordinance 1999.
The actions made by the authorities and by NAB courts during the period from such introduction of NAB amendments since August 2022 up to the time of the decision of the Supreme Court would be legally subject to the final verdict and outcome of the proceedings of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
The patchwork in NAB law is and would not be able to address the real issues of corruption and legal controversies in Pakistan until the whole law on corruption is redrafted by Parliament after debate with good international practices.
The proposed law should add modern requirements, solutions and strategies to deal with white collar crimes, corruption and corrupt practices as well as streamline the governance right trends in Pakistan by issuing a National Anti-Corruption Strategy for a period of 10 to 15 years at all levels.
With the existence baggage and perception of corruption and corrupt practices, Pakistan and its citizens would not become prosper and would have respectable place in the comity of nations, thus there would be dire and urgent need to completely introduce a new accountability law with clear worded mandate and authority for dealing all tears and methods of corruption and corrupt practices whether prevalent at Federal or Provincial levels and by under in an umbrella to be established as one National Crime Agency in Pakistan like many other countries doing with success stories, and this agency should be given the responsibility not only for initiating of corruption cases, investigation and prosecution but should also work for minimizing the loopholes of corruption and corrupt practices throughout the country at all government levels – federal, provincial and local – through their legislative recommendations in different laws and through having strong transparent and credible implementation plan which in the present scenario, unfortunately the NAB as an institution has completely failed in its performance side but also failed to maintain the perception of its credibility both on transparency and effectiveness.
There is also need to abolish different organizations either on federal or provincial levels working on corruption side and on white collar crimes, as there is duplicity of assignments and these organizations have also so far failed to deliver and perform since decades, therefore, these existing organizations should be merged under one law and under one National Crime Agency to deal with all types of corruption and corrupt practices and white collar crimes throughout the country with merit based recruitment and on scientific investigation basis.
While forming a new institution for dealing with corruption in the country, this should also be considered by legal minds and Parliament that the proposed organizations should be divided under different sections to deal with white collar crimes and simultaneously should not be given the absolute authority only to its head of organization, but the powers and functions of that institution should be exercised by a Board as an institution where purely professional, credible and independent personalities should be appointed with more focusing on time limit, forensic investigation, strong prosecution and for the mechanism of corruption-free Pakistan.
The proposed agency should set their targets work vigorously to create an impression that it is purely a professional agency and not a forum of political victimization.
There is need to set up a cell with a group of professional experts for improving governance, to rectify systemic issues of corruption and governance which are the root causes and responsible for corruption and corrupt practices like other similar agencies in the world.
It is also important to start working to improve the image of independent and professional investigation and prosecution within and outside organization and to establish a vigilant cell to monitor the working of NAB officials to check their misuse of authority.
This could be a substantial way forward to work for a better, transparent and almost a free corruption Pakistan.
—The writer has served on many important quasi judicial positions including Chairman, Customs, Excise & Sales Tax Appellate Tribunal.