Clipping NAB’s wings when corruption going up

By: Ashraf Mumtaz      Published: 01:08 PM, 7 Oct, 2021
Clipping NAB’s wings when corruption going up
Representational image.

At a time when corruption is growing by leaps and bounds and there was a dire need for the National Accountability Bureau to have more powers to take deterrent action against all corrupt without any exception, a presidential ordinance issued on Wednesday (October 6) has clipped the wings of the anti-graft watchdog. 

A large number of organizations with opportunities of committing corruption have been excluded from the NAB’s jurisdiction – after which they will have to face the same old toothless system which nobody fears. 

Although major opposition parties have still come up with negative reaction, the development is their victory as they have been expressing serious reservations about the NAB, calling for its disbandment and transfer of its powers to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), an organization that has lost credibility long ago because of its pliability. 

After the presidential ordinance although the NAB has not been dissolved, it has just been reduced to another ‘emaciated’ entity. 

Exclusion of the federal and provincial cabinets, business community and collective decisions of the committees or sub-committees, Council of Common Interests, National Economic Council, National Finance Commission, Exe­cutive Committee of Natio­nal Economic Council, Cen­tral Development Working Party, Provincial Develop­ment Working Party, Departmental Development Working Party and State Bank of Pakistan from the ambit of NAB also amounts to dealing a serious blow to the bureau. 

According to the ordinance, “all matters pertaining to Federal, Provincial or Local taxation, other levies or imposts, including refunds, or loss of exchequer pertaining to taxation” will be dealt with in accordance with the revenue or banking laws and will be transferred from the accountability courts to the courts of competent jurisdiction. 

Learning from the experience of Nawaz Sharif, who faced cases of billions of rupees but was granted bail in routine after which he left for London for ‘medical treatment’ about two years ago, under the new legislation all offenses will be non-bailable. Only the accountability court will have the power to grant bail or release the accused and that too if the accused deposited money equal to the amount of corruption

The provision has made the bail easier for the moneyed corrupt as they will love to avail the concession for a price.    

The promulgation of the ordinance became unavoidable because of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s reluctance to hold mandatory consult with the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly (Shehbaz Sharif) for the selection of a new NAB chairman.  

Fully satisfied with the four-year performance of Justice Javed Iqbal, the government was determined to retain him in the office. However, the opposition had serious reservations about him because, in their opinion, he was playing like a tool in the hands of the government and victimizing only the anti-government elements. 

Incidentally, Shehbaz Sharif is also facing NAB cases at present, a situation that has provided the government with a legal justification for not holding consultations with him. 

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has been consistently arguing that consultations with Shehbaz Sharif at a juncture when he is facing NAB cases would be like asking an accused who should investigate him. 

He said if the opposition changes its leader in the National Assembly he can be included in the consultative process. This is a precondition no PML-N man can even think of meeting.  

Under the new ordinance the president will appoint the NAB chairman in consultation with the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly. And in case there is no consensus between the two sides the NA speaker will set up a 12-member committee to decide the matter. 

For the time being the opposition leader appears to have been circumvented, although the opposition parties to challenge the ordinance in the Supreme Court.  

Now, Javed Iqbal will retain the office of NAB chairman till the appointment of his successor. And the government can keep him on the seat for as long as it likes – and will not have to hold consultations to choose his replacement.     

Apparently, the government appears to have outwitted the opposition at this juncture. 

But the role of Shehbaz Sharif as opposition leader will factor in once again when a caretaker prime minister is to be installed before the 2023 elections. 

Under the constitution, a caretaker prime minister is appointed by the president in consultation with the incumbent premier and the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly 

If the two posts are retained by Imran Khan and Shehbaz Sharif, respectively, till then, another deadlock is imminent. It is to be seen whether the government will have to bring in another ordinance or find some other innovative mechanism to meet the constitutional requirement.  

While the government and the opposition will continue to outmanoeuvre and outwit each other, Justice Javed should better not accept extension.  He is a former judge of the Supreme Court and maintain the dignity of the office. 

Having enjoyed so many powers as NAB chief, he should not work with clipped wings just for the sake of a job.