- Questionable techniques leading to bad results
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has never enjoyed a good reputation. Constituted by Pervez Musharraf, it was widely perceived to be a tool for keeping politicians in check through fear of prosecution. In the current setup’s hands, the accountability watchdog has become more controversial than ever before. Whatever impartiality that could have been associated with the institution has gone out of the window with a highly disproportionate number of inquiries, investigations and arrests being targeted towards the opposition, not the government. The treatment of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen under NAB arrest while being ‘investigated’ has been harsh to say the least with multiple complaints of being high-handed and in some cases resembling borderline mental torture. While opposition politicians are left to the mercy of accountability courts, businessmen being allegedly harassed by NAB sought some solace in the COAS and PM, asking for some relief. That relief has come in the form of a committee comprising of senior NAB officials and senior business leaders. A day after its formation NAB opened up an investigation against one of the businessmen in the same committee. Either one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing or there is a difference in opinion over how the bureau should operate. Even the PTI led government has started to complain about how NAB is getting in the way of service delivery. The PM recently promised to the bureaucracy- virtually in pen down mode out of fear of being nabbed- that he would clip NAB’s wings, restricting it from arresting civil servants under the garb of “misuse of authority”. Similarly, Razzaq Dawood reportedly complained in a cabinet meeting that he is unable to convince professionals from the private sector to fill high-level positions at state-owned enterprises due to fears that once they retire, NAB would come after them.
It is true that past governments have left the NAB law unchanged as they also used it to go after their political opponents. What is different now is that there is, for the first time, some consensus on the fact that NAB has to be reined in to make government and parliament function normally. But unless these amendments come through discussion, in parliament, with opposition lawmakers through the passing of a law rather than an ordinance, the exercise will be rendered useless.