NAB in the dock

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Malik Ashraf

ACCOUNTABILITY is an indispensable pillar of good governance provided it is across the board and indiscriminate. Such an arrangement acts as a catalyst in building a peaceful and progressive society. It is very regrettable to note that during the last seventy years Pakistan has failed to establish a credible system of accountability and the successive governments have invariably used the slogan of accountability to target their political opponents for achieving their own narrow political ends rather than serving the masse and changing the archaic colonial system of governance which has inbuilt avenue of graft and corruption. The PTI government is also not different from the previous ones in this regard. The process of accountability unleashed against the leaders of the opposition parties and their members smacks of political vendetta, a fact which has been amply established by the verdict of Lahore High Court in the ‘Punjab Saaf Pani Company case delivered on February 8. The judgment puts NAB in the dock for its dubious and malafide role in ongoing process of accountability.
It is pertinent to point out that just before the 2018 general election NAB had arrested nine Directors of the Company including PML (N) leader Qamar ul Islam who was the candidate of one NA and two provincial seats in the Rawalpindi district. The NAB accused them of corruption in the award of contract for installation of water plants in Bahawalpur District. The court while accepting bail of all the arrested Directors of the Company ruled, “It is prima facie established that NAB acted with malafide intent against two Directors of the Company Engineer Raja Qamrul Islam and Waseem Ahmal. We have noted that there is absolutely no allegation against the petitioners that they received any commission, kickbacks, illegal gratification while awarding the contract. Prima facie all the proceedings in this case were taken in accordance with the law and rules on the subject. The contract was awarded after acceptance of the negotiated bid of KSB Pumps and even the contract was signed with the prior approval of the Board of Directors in the meeting held on May, 18 2018” The verdict of the LHC amply proves complicity of NAB with the rulers in targeting the opposition parties. The tone and tenor of the Prime Minister and the tirade let loose by some of the ministers, particularly Sheikh Rasheed against the leaders of PML (N) and PPP also indicates the malice characterizing the current process of accountability. The statements of the NAB chairman also have political undertones. I remember that in the recent past speaking at a function he remarked ‘ The era of Kings is gone’, a terminology often used by Imran Khan to describe the way of governance by the PML(N) leaders, particularly Nawaz Sharif.
While there are no two opinions about holding all those accountable who have taken this nation for a ride, it is also imperative that the process takes place in an indiscriminate manner and does not give semblance of political vendetta. Politics in Pakistan has become an industry and politicians on both sides of the isle have built their fortunes at the expense of the masses through corruption and misuse of power. There are more of such characters in the ruling party itself than in the ranks of the opposition parties. There could not have been a more corrupt way than the manner in which PTI governments in the Centre and Punjab were formed. NAB was established by a military dictator to target the politicians and coercing them to join a particular political party and also as a weapon to prolong his rule. NAB’s own credibility has hit the rock bottom. The members of the Bureau have also built their fortunes while dealing with cases of corruption. Who can forget the clip run on TV screens which showed a NAB officer accepting a bribe of 50 million rupees from Malik Riaz Chairman of Bahria Town. It is really very difficult for NAB to maintain the integrity of its own investigators when huge sums of money are involved. They are not angels and belong to the society which is suffering from terminal affliction of corruption. That makes them pliable.
It is interesting to note that the opposition parties as well as the government agree that the NAB laws needed a review to make it a really impartial and credible entity which means all that the NAB was doing was not well. Though the NAB of late also has arrested Aleem Khan but most of the political analysts believe that it was a balancing act by the Agency to defect the criticism that it was earning in the wake of indiscreet actions against the leaders of the opposition parties.The way the things are panning out there is no hope of the country finding the direction envisaged by its architect. The PTI government instead of getting bogged down in the process of sham accountability must try to focus on reforming the system which breeds corruption and culture of entitlement. The rattling noise that it is making in regards to accountability will further aggravate the situation. People are waiting a change in their economic situation; a new local bodies system in conformity with the constitution and SHOs elected like Sheriffs in the western countries to end the Thana culture. Nevertheless it remains a million dollar question whether a revolutionary turned traditional power grabber will be able to deliver on those promises or not.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

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