May 19th, 2022
By Rehan Piracha
National Accountability Bureau needs to be reformed into a ‘practically independent’ institution immune from political interference instead of scrapping it altogether, according to senior lawyers amid reports the anti-graft watchdog’s chief would cease to hold office next month
According to a news report, Justice (r) Javed Iqbal, the controversial chief of the anti-graft watchdog would cease to hold office when an amendment ordinance allowing him to continue in the job till the appointment of a successor lapses next month. In February, the former Pakistan Tehrik Insaf government passed a resolution in the National Assembly to extend the National Accountability (Second Amendment) Ordinance 2021 for a further extension of 120 days under the Constitution. The ordinance would cease to hold effect after expiry of the extension unless it is replaced by an act of Parliament under the Constitution.
The ordinance had called for the formation of a parliamentary committee comprising treasury and opposition members if the prime minister and the opposition leader in the National Assembly fail to reach a consensus on the appointment of the NAB chairman. It had also allowed a one-time four-year extension to an existing chairman who would continue in his office till the appointment of a successor.
NAB has been accused of being a tool of political victimization by opposition leaders in successive government tenures since its establishment in Pervez Musharraf’s military regime. According to news reports, the Shahbaz Sharif government has approved the constitution of a committee, headed by Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, tasked with bringing amendments to NAB laws.
Voicepk spoke to senior lawyers about whether NAB could continue in existence despite its controversial image as a tool of political victimization in the country.
Politicians, dictators destroyed colonial mechanism of accountability: Rasheed Rizvi
According to Justice (r) Rasheed A Rizvi, political leaders and military dictators destroyed the mechanism of accountability for public officials that the British colonial rulers put in place before the partition. “The British India government enacted the Prevention of Corruption Act in 1947, foreboding the rampant corruption that was to follow in India and Pakistan,” the former high court judge told Voicepk.net. “However, the anti-corruption establishments under the law were systematically destroyed by political leaders and military leaders to allow for loot and plunder of the national exchequer,” he added.
He pointed out that NAB was a continuation of the accountability bureau established under the Ehtesab Act by the former Nawaz Sharif government in the 1990s. “The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government used to the Ehtesab Bureau to target opposition leaders from Pakistan Peoples Party,” he said.
Rizvi said NAB should not be scrapped but reformed to function as an independent anti-corruption watchdog without political interference. In his view, the political leadership has to make NAB independent practically and not just on paper. “Though the chairman enjoys financial independence and protection of tenure but there is nothing in the NAB laws to provide security and independence to investigation officers,” he explained.
“if the NAB chairman directs his subordinate investigation officer to lodge a corruption a case against a certain person the officer has no option but to oblige,” he said. “The independence and tenure safety net has to be brought down to lower-level staff,” he added. “An inspector of the India’s Central Bureau of Investigation was able to issue notice to then prime minister PV Narsimha Rao over allegations of doling out money to parliamentarians during a no-trust motion,” Rizvi said. He suggested that an appellate forum should be constituted for NAB cases.
Hafeez-ur-Rehman Chaudhary, the vice-chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council, agreed with Rizvi on the need for the continuation of NAB by making it an independent national institution to curb rampant corruption in the country.
NAB has to be made independent like apex judiciary: PBC vice-chairman
Hafeez-ur-Rehman Chaudhary said NAB usually filed corruption cases against opposition leaders but not against sitting ministers and party leaders of the government of the time. “Every government has used NAB as a tool of political victimisation in the country,” he added.
According to the PBC vice-chairman, NAB could be made independent only if it enjoyed similar independence, financial security, and tenure safety provided to the high courts and the Supreme Court. “The tenure of the NAB chief should be similar to apex court judges,” he added.
Make NAB immune from political interference: Salahuddin Ahmed
Salahuddin Ahmed, former president of Sindh High Court NBar Association, believed that the dissolution of NAB was not a solution given the culture of rampant plunder and loot in the country since independence.
“I don’t think NAB necessarily needs to be scrapped altogether but it certainly needs to be drastically reformed and made immune from political (and establishment)’s interference,” he told Voicepk.net.