Corruption control?

The withdrawal of high-profile NAB cases raises queries about its future

NAB’s withdrawal of cases against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif came with the withdrawal of cases against ex-PMs Yousaf Reza Gilani and Raja Pervez Ashraf, and was decided on in the light of the recent amendments by the present government in the NAB law, most notably the exclusion of all cases of corruption below Rs 500 million, and the shifting of the burden of proof from the accused to the prosecution. The withdrawal of the cases showed how the amendments are likely to lead to the quashing of other enquiries. The problem seems to lie not in the law, but how we approach corruption. A major reason why the desired outcome of a corruption-free society has not been achieved has been because NAB was founded as a tool for the government to use against opponents. Now that the opponents of the last government achieved power, they have used their legislative majority to amend the NAB law so as to get certain individuals out, rather than to reform the law.

NAB failed primarily because it lacked professionalism; its investigators were unable to provide NAB prosecutors with the evidence needed for special accountability courts to convict offenders. It was said that it had been given wider powers of detention because of the nature of the crimes, but this led to the misuse of these powers against the government’s opponents. Corruption is a problem, is illegal, and offences involving it must be punished, but after a trial by the ordinary criminal courts. Is a special separate organization needed to investigate cases? It should suffice to have a specialized formation within a larger organization to prepare such cases. Clearly, the power to remand alleged suspects must not exceed that of the other investigation agencies.

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The NAB law needed to be changed to convert it into a true corruption-busting body, from eyewash, or even a method to ‘fix’ one’s opponents, not merely because some individuals were affected by it, but because it is a bad law, subject to misuse by the government. However, it might make more administrative sense to stop trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and to abolish the institution altogether. However, that should not mean that there is no recourse, or only an inadequate one, left against corruption. The alternative anti-corruption mechanism must be ready, after all stakeholders have been brought on board.

Editorial
The Editorial Department of Pakistan Today can be contacted at: [email protected]

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