Pakistan Reader# 228, 13 October 2021
On October 7, the President of Pakistan Arif Alvi signed the ordinance National Accountability Second Amendment Ordinance 2021 promulgated by the government which will enable the president to reappoint the incumbent NAB man or even extend his/her tenure. The amendment has reduced the judicial powers of NAB and the role of opposition has been amplified as well. All matters pertaining to taxation have been divested from the ambit of NAB. What explains the current rejig in NAB executive domain?
The National Accountability Bureau of Pakistan is a federal agency, it is corruption watchdog of Pakistan which operates under National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999, it aims to defeat economic terrorism a problem endemic to Pakistan. The NAB's main tasks have been organized along functional lines and are undertaken by four main divisions: Operations, Prosecution, Awareness and Prevention, and Human Resource and Finance Divisions. Other than these main wings there are accountability courts and seven regional offices of NAB.
The chairman therefore becomes critical to it functioning and accountability of the public institutions. The latest amendment has compromised the power of corruption ombudsman in Pakistan, whereby the term can be extended by amending the section 6 of NAO 1999 by excluding the term ‘non-extendable’ from the statue. The government has manipulated the extension of the chairman of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) by ignoring the rules of business, and promulgated an ordinance with amendments in the NAB laws. This will impact the ethos of the chairman commissioning the NAB and political favoritism will increase for the larger objectives of miltablishment.
The controversies associated with NAB
The latest issue of political engineering relates to appeals charged against the Sharif family by NAB, Islamabad high court has suspended sentences given to Maryam Nawaz Sharif regarding the verdict in Avenfield apartment case. Now Maryam Nawaz has filed petitions for annulment of the verdict of the NAB accountability court. If it happens that would be the latest dent in the integrity of the NAB statue.
NAB and its bias in handling political cases has been spotted at international level, the Broadsheet LLC was hired during the Musharraf regime and NAB terminated the agreement due to some political maneuvering. The firm called for claims worth USD 600 million but haven’t got a penny of it. Recently a UK court has slapped a penalty of USD 28.7 million to Pakistan High Commission in London because NAB never paid the amount.
The appointment of chairman of NAB acts as a symbol of trust and confidence between governing political party and party sitting in opposition ranks and the recent amendment retains that provision of consultation from leader of opposition for such appointment through President. Amplification of the role of opposition in the latest amendment for oversight on appointment through a parliamentary forum seems like a welcome step but while giving this government has taken another power away from NAB. Now NAB cannot proceed against “any person or entity who, or transaction in relation thereto, which are not directly or indirectly connected with the holder of a public office…procedural lapses in any public or governmental work, project or scheme, unless it is shown that a holder of public office or any other person has been conferred or has received any monetary or other material benefit from that particular public or governmental work.” On top of this, the authority of the prosecutor general of NAB is enhanced to play a crucial role in advising the chairman to file or withdraw any reference from the court.
The pulse of governance in Pakistan is that of engineered democracy, and the tranches of democratic experiences which Pakistan has gone through has brought home democracy back again in Pakistani style, the latest amendment has further decentralized the functioning of NAB in taking some executive powers while allowing for new function like, granting bail to any accused, consultation from chief justice of the high court to appoint accountability judges. If there is step forward to democracy there are two steps backward to circle that scope of democracy. Now the NAB chairman has to function in this context with limited and focused powers.
Malik Asad, “Ordinance issued to extend term of NAB chairman,” Dawn, 7 October 2021
Lt Col (Retd) Mukhtar Ahmed Butt, “NAB amendment,” Dawn, 12 October, 2021
Tahir Naseer, “Maryam files new application with 'relevant facts' in IHC for annulment of Avenfield verdict,” Dawn, 5 October 2021
Nasir Iqbal, “SC spots bias in NAB handling of political case,” Dawn, 21 July 2020
Hamza Ameer, “UK Court slaps $28.7M penalty payment to Pak High Commission,” The Siasat Daily, 1 January 2021