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How NAB can be made effective

Islamabad

March 29, 2016

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An honorable judge of Supreme Court gave the following remarks in a case of plea bargain the previous day.

“According to the act of plea bargain, if a person commits Rs100 million corruption, he can be set free after paying only Rs10 million. Then that person is re-appointed to the same post. He again indulges in Rs200 million corruption. What type of act is it? If the NAB works in this way, it should be closed then.”

These remarks are before me and I am thinking that these remarks of the honorable justice have a great importance because these comments are about the law and performance of the NAB. They express public opinion and emotions. 

I have reviewed the data of the NAB which was presented during the period of 2008-2015 regarding the plea bargain in this piece of writing. It will be better to understand the clauses of the law of NAB in this regard before discussing this data.

The National Accountability Ordinance 1999 provides a legal cover to plea bargain for taking back the money that was corrupted. Under Clause 25-A the principle of voluntary return has been mentioned. According to this principle, a person who has been appointed to a govt designation or any other person, presents himself before NAB and requests that he will return the money that he has earned illegally and is regarded as a crime under this law. 

He makes this appeal before the permission of any investigation against him. Acceptance means after the estimation and collection of the amount by NAB, the particular person can be declared free from the charge in this matter. This exemption is also present in the law that this solution can only be possible if this case is not adjourned in any court. 

The 25-B Clause of this Act explains the procedure of plea bargain. According to it, if the investigations against the accused are allowed but he offers NAB the money of corruption and the benefits obtained by it, at any stage of the case then it is the privilege of chairman NAB that he can accept this offer with favorable conditions.

In such condition, if the accused agrees to return the amount, chairman NAB will send the case to the court for approval for release of the accused. According to the 36-page data provided by NAB on website from Jan 2008 – 30 June 2015 plea bargain has been done in 418 cases. 

Ignoring the fact that plea bargain is a suitable procedure or not, it is important to mention that according to the figures of seven and a half years, this average is almost more than one case per week.

A better performance is being expected from an institution which is established to arrest the accused of corruption and deception. It is quite important to note that among these 418 cases more than 40% (179) are those cases in which less than Rs10 lakh has to be received. 

In easy words, they were the cases of trivial nature. Comparatively, a little amount was demanded through plea bargain. It can be certified in this way that 50 cases out of 179 are those in which only Rs5,000 has been demanded for 100,000. I think there should be complete accountability of the corruption whether it is major or minor. However, the NAB wasn’t established to settle such cases. 

In the remaining cases 84 are those in which the amount of plea bargain is 1 million to 2.5 million only. If we consider the number of the cases in which the amount of plea bargain is less than Rs2.5 million, it is only two-thirds of the cases (63%). In the data of 2008-2015, the cases can be categorized on the basis of the amount of plea bargain in the following way.

It is interesting to note that the accused have taken advantage more than anyone else in the cases in which the amount of plea bargain is more than one billion. 

For example, in a case the real amount was Rs2 billion but the amount of plea bargain was only Rs880 million. In another case, the amount was Rs8 billion but was decided in Rs14 million. In spite of that a very little amount was demanded in plea bargain, yet in 5 out of 6 cases the amount which should be recovered up to 30 June 2015 has not received. All cases belong to 2008, 2009 and 2012 except one. 

The question is, what is the moral ground of plea bargain? Hasn’t it encouraged corruption? Firstly, rob and then return a part of it. Then find a safe side. In my opinion, immediate change is needed in this law. 

This review of NAB’s performance shows that it is overlooking the real corruption. The rich and the poor are treated differently. Whenever NAB starts any campaign against political dignitaries, they raise a storm. The NAB should complete its investigation date-wise. Some cases are investigated very soon but some remain closed.

Similarly, plea bargain somewhere deals generously but somewhere takes revenge. This attitude should be checked. The NAB should abide by the rules of the country.  

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