National Accountability Bureau in the dock

By: Ashraf Mumtaz      Published: 02:21 PM, 4 Nov, 2021
National Accountability Bureau in the dock
File photo.

Accountability of the corrupt is among the top priorities of Prime Minister Imran Khan. He repeatedly said at various forums that he wouldn’t spare any corrupt, whatever the price. 

Opposition parties, on the other hand, brand the ongoing accountability process as witch-hunting and call for the disbandment of the anti-graft institution. 

To what extent the PTI government is aware of what is going on in the NAB came to light during Wednesday’s meeting of the Senate committee on finance. 

NAB Chairman Javed Iqbal claimed many a time that his institution recovered Rs714 billion from the corrupt since its inception some two decades ago and deposited the amount with the exchequer. (Now it has transpired that the amount stands at Rs 821 billion).   

However, Additional Finance Secretary Tanveer Butt informed the Senate committee that only Rs6.458bn had been received in non-tax revenue over the past 16 years on account of NAB recoveries and that the finance ministry was totally unaware as to where the remaining amount went or was being utilised. He said the finance ministry could not ask the anti-graft watchdog about the remaining Rs815bn.  

“The money was not being deposited in government accounts. It is not known in which account the NAB had deposited the recovery of Rs821 billion,” he said, baffling all the participants. 

After this, the committee decided to write to the Auditor General of Pakistan and NAB (Accounts) director general to appear before it and explain the situation.   

Senator Talha Mahmood, the committee chairman who belongs to the JUI-F, said at the meeting that the amount recovered by the NAB would also be audited. 

On the other hand, in a paper sent to the Senate committee, the NAB said it recovered Rs76bn as voluntary refund or plea-bargain, Rs122 billion as bank loan default recoveries, Rs60bn recovery on account of restructuring of loans, Rs46bn court fines and over Rs500bn in different ‘indirect recoveries’. 

Senator Saleem Mandviwala (of PPP) said at the meeting the funds received from National Crimes Agency, the UK, had also not been deposited in the national kitty. 

In this situation, it’s a very legitimate question as to why the finance ministry did not know where the amounts recovered by the NAB had been deposited. Why the ministry did not check the veracity of the claims made by the NAB chief? Why did the ministry not approach the NAB to ascertain the facts? 

This is the height of indifference on the part of the novices’ government. Those who have failed to perform their role should be taken to task without delay and made an example for the lazy souls. 

It should also be probed whether there are more accounts lying somewhere the finance ministry is unaware of. 

Regrettably, this is the state of affairs in a country that is facing funds’ shortages and is almost begging different institutions for money to run the fragile economy.  

Lately, it has been reported that the government has accepted almost all conditionalities of the IMF to get the remaining $1billion tranche, as a result of which people would face more price hike in times ahead. It is already unbearable for the people with limited resources and will make them literally scream if prices of various items are further raised. 

If necessary measures are not taken and the situation on this front remains unchanged, the Rs 120 billion relief package announced by the prime minister on Wednesday will not help the common man. 

According to the premier, “Rs120 billion package, jointly funded by the federal and provincial governments, will provide 30 per cent discount on ghee, flour and pulses to 130 million people for the next six months.” 

Defending the raise in the petrol price, he said the petrol price in Pakistan was still less than that in India and Bangladesh. “But now we have to increase oil prices to control the growing deficit. We are already under ample burden of debts and paying interest on it,” he said. 

While announcing the package, the prime minister came up with a novel idea of bringing down prices of food items by 50 per cent. He said he would cut prices if two families bring home only 50 per cent of their looted wealth lying abroad. 

Although he did not name the families, it was very clear who he was referring to.  

It may be recalled that since assuming power the PTI government has been trying to bring back the looted wealth. But so far its efforts have not borne fruit.  And there is little chance of their success in future. 

This means neither the ‘looted wealth’ would come back nor the prices of food items come down. Like IMF conditionalities for loans, Prime Minister Imran has also set a tough condition.  

Therefore, no good news can be expected on this front even in the distant future.