Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) had promised in their 2013 manifesto to form an independent National Accountability Commission after coming to power.
The National Accountability Bureau, the premier accountability agency established to try corrupt government officers and politicians was the brainchild of former President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf. He had justified his coup by calling it a reluctant attempt to check corruption. The National Accountability Ordinance 1999 would in time become a tool to harass politicians whose loyalties were required to form a democratic set-up under the umbrella of a political party. The law that criminalized non-repayment of bank loans defected many politicians to Musharraf’s self-created Pakistan Muslims League-Q. Among other loopholes in the legal framework of NAB, the Voluntary Return and Plea Bargain provision under Section 25 are considered the worst. Although the Supreme Court had restrained Chairman NAB from using Voluntary Return, the Plea Bargain can still be used.
The former Finance Secretary Balochistan, Mushtaq Raisani, is the latest example, and a glaring one too, of a corrupt officer set-free using the provision of Plea Bargain. He secured his release after paying Rs 2 billion from the massive amount of embezzled money. NAB had recovered more than Rs 730 million from Raisani’s home in a raid in Quetta.
NAB has been criticized for promoting and facilitating corruption rather than eliminating it. The bureau has also been placed under the hammer for turning its eye from mega corruption cases and running after small corruption cases. Over the years, different governments have provided legal passage to influential people, especially the politicians, to move out of corruption charges; National Reconciliation Ordinance and Ehtesab Act of 1997 are just a few examples.
The government has appointed a 20 member Parliamentary Committee headed by Federal Law Minister, Zahid Hamid, to replace NAB with the National Accountability Commission.
The Chairman of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Law and Justice Mehmood Bashir Virk has been critical of his own party (PML-N) and all the previous governments for failing to implement the existing laws. He told Truth Tracker that the need to reinvent a new law arose because NAB had become too controversial and everyone in his or her capacity was demanding for it to be killed. Explaining the framework of National Accountability Commission, Virk said, “Power in the new law would not be concentrated in the hands of any one person.” “The courts,” he elaborated, “could intervene to keep the commission from steering in the wrong direction.” Virk, however, admitted that if those holding the reigns of power had character even the NAB would have given results. “Call it indifference to the national cause, dishonesty, insensitivity or incompetence, but the reality is that the law enforcement institutions are corrupt to the core,” Virk said. “If the NAB could deliver results, in whatever form, during Pervez Musharraf’s rule, why is it failing to deliver now? The difference,” Virk complained,, lies in their intentions.” “If today, the intentions of the leadership become clear and clean, the existing laws would be sufficient to get rid of corruption,” Virk concluded.
Talking to Truth Tracker, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Vice Chairman and Member National Assembly, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, said, “The test of the government’s seriousness about eliminating corruption did not lie in making a new anti-corruption law, but in getting it implemented in letter and spirit.” While talking about NAB, he deplored it for serving the government’s interest. It had been possible according to Shah because of the Chairman NAB, in whose hands rests all the power and who is appointed by the Leader of the House and Opposition. “You could see how the Supreme Court had grilled Chairman NAB for misusing his power to help the ruling elite evade corruption charges,” Shah said. Shah is confident that the new law would not discriminate among the criminals. “Anyone, be it a member of the ruling elite or a bureaucrat or a politician,” Shah emphasized, “caught with corruption charges and proven guilty will be convicted.”
Former Punjab Governor, Sardar Latif Khosa, a PPP stalwart, was critical of PML-N’s effort to form a new law replacing NAB. He inquired as to how a government accused of corruption charges could bring about a law against corruption. He blamed the PML-N for not cooperating with the PPP government in its last tenure in getting the National Accountability Commission Bill passed, as, said Khosa, “This bill was initially developed by the PPP.” Khosa was in favour of an independent commission. “If the new anti-corruption law is made subservient to the government, then it will be of no use,” Khosa said.
Independent view :
Shahid Usman, a senior lawyer, told Truth Tracker that unless a change was brought about in the people themselves; in their mode of thinking and style of governance, a new law would just be an addition to the already sketchy legal framework of the country. He said that the NAB was considered draconian in nature and it had been used effectively as well. “It all depends on the formation of the new commission; there should be an independent body to influence the decisions of the chairman of the commission. NAB has been deliberately made in such a way that all the power accumulated rests with the Chairman because it is easy to manipulate one person as opposed to ten or twenty people. Internal accountability and the dispersal of power are the keys that could make this new law effective,” Usman said
Another lawyer Farrukh Dall is also of the opinion that there is absolutely no need of a new accountability law. “It is corruption within the NAB and the misuse of power that makes it notorious. If the government had the will to enforce the laws of the NAB there would be no need to form any commission,” Dall said.
The PML-N government is in the process of making the National Accountability Commission; though the government is not sure if it would be able to implement the law during its tenure. The bill is in its nascent stage, being deliberated in the Parliamentary Committee on Law and Justice. The future of the commission is not clear therefore Truth Tracker rules that the promise has been compromised.