Taking the jab out of NAB

The National Accountability Bureau, NAB, is again the centre of news these days. The autonomous body made during the regime of General Pervez Musharraf, 1999, was accused of levying political victimization on the political opponents at the time.

The practice continues.

Corruption has become a deep-rooted menace of our society; threatening democracy by curtailing the freedom of its actors, barring them from reporting against such crimes, even when they are victimized by those corrupt, for fear of personal safety and that of their assets.

The Corruption Perception Index, CPI, in their latest 2018 report, placed Pakistan as a 33 per cent corrupt country. The country’s score went up by one per cent from the previous year 2017. Nevertheless, Pakistan’s ranking remained 117 out of 183, as in the previous year. NAB chairman recently stated in the media that the success of their department can be measured from the fact that the Bureau received upwards of 50, 000 complaints in the last 13 months.

The federal accountability watchdog’s role was to bring corruption to task. The National Accountability Ordinance, NAO, in 2002 developed National Anti-Corruption Strategies as an anti-corruption preventive model. The model had three approaches: awareness, prevention and enforcement. However, so far Bureau’s case completion rates are below 50 per cent. Critics and political opposition members accuse the Bureau of politicisation. They claim that NAB is used as a tool for their victimization. Clearly when courts intervene on behalf of those under NAB investigation, declaring the Bureau’s claims for sufficient evidence false and terminates arrests of the plainants, mists of doubt overcast the silver lining in NAB’s credibility and performance.

Hamza Shahbaz and Bilawal Bhutto have recently lashed out against the reversals of the Bureau’s earlier stances against their persons. The Bureau recently reversed its summons to the women of the Shahbaz Sharif family stating that they respect women and would take a different course to interrogate them.

Surprisingly, NAB’s actions seem hasty and not planned through. This raises fears of external pressures. Hamza Shahbaz’s claims of being offered immunity for settling with the government was rejected by the DG NAB Punjab. Naturally, matters like who sits at he helm of NAB’s affairs and how much of autonomy they enjoy in choosing cases against those in power have been viewed with suspicion.

There is no doubt about the importance of the anti corruption bureau in a country like ours, but we need to allow them the freedom to interrogate any segment of the private populace and government functionary without dictates and reprisals, while making their policies and actions transparent for external scrutiny.

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