Saturday June 22, 2024

NAB strategy

By Azam Khalil
April 13, 2016

A lengthy sermon was given to the people of this country when the National Accountability Bureau was formed. It was claimed that rampant corruption was a result of poor governance which was the outcome of mismanagement, but not its cause. Therefore the bureau envisaged treating the menace according to these requirements.

It was also declared that an effective anticorruption system was like good healthcare that would in turn control an endemic disease by putting in place preventive measures and curative strategies. The founders of this bureau also wanted the people to believe that NAB would ensure that corruption was effectively reduced. However, all these claims have ended up in failure as the bosses of the NAB continue to run in circles without any real sense of direction.

The plan given at NAB’s formation was that the only tool used to fight corrupt practices had been enforcement, investigation, prosecution and finally conviction. However, the fact is that both investigation and prosecution remain weak links in the accountability bureau’s tools as it continues to employ selective measures, against selected people.

For example, the bureau closed its eyes when nearly Rs500 billion was doled out in the energy sector in violation of the laws of the land. In contrast, several cases have continued for years on end against minions like tehsil dars etc whose lives are made miserable for a few dimes of silver.

The SCARP case has not been finalised by the NAB authorities even after the passage of more than two years while projects like Nandipur etc continue to be ignored by the NAB authorities. In Punjab and elsewhere the government made a big show of a Transparency International report that showed Pakistan to have improved a few notches. This generated a fierce debate in the country because there are some who believe that the Pakistan chapter of Transparency International may have failed to do a proper job.

It is common knowledge that corruption has increased in the last one year and the people continue to suffer. Adulteration in food and even in medicines is so glaring that one never knows if a tablet bought to save one’s life will end up taking it. There is no mechanism to monitor all this or, for that matter, to provide any relief to the common man who remains at the mercy of various conmen. It is easy to create a false aura that the people of this country will soon see improvement as far as corrupt practices are concerned, but the fact remains that, instead of improving, the situation continues to deteriorate at an alarming speed.

For example, the anti-corruption strategy laid down by the government reiterates that 27 different public departments inspect an average manufacturing concern and that on each visit there is bound to be improvement. What has been seen is that on each visit more opportunities are created for harassment and corruption, thus decreasing avenues for investment.

The example given by the government was that the government of Sindh closed down the Department of Weights and Measures to reduce opportunities for corruption and harassment. What they failed to understand was that with no one to look into this vital issue, defective measurement has become a routine in Sindh where people are swindled every day as the weights and measures used by the shopkeepers are never up to the standards.

As a part of the accountability process, the ombudsman, the office of the auditor general and the public accounts committee should play a critical part in the enforcement of law and public sector accountability. However, except for the ombudsman, the office of the auditor general has been virtually reduced to that of a post office and the federal finance minister and his cohorts continue to call the shots and have put in place certain regulations where the auditor general has entirely ceased to function.

The public accounts committees have no teeth and routinely indulge in public relations extravaganzas. For example, the ombudsman in Punjab tried to play a role according to the law to help out pensioners who have been continuously denied their rights by the government of Punjab. Ninety percent of the decisions taken by the ombudsman and his directors were overturned by the then governor of Punjab Chaudhary Sarwar, who continued to toe the line of the bureaucracy.

In some cases, though, the ombudsman has succeeded not only in providing justice, but has also ensured that his office functions at the district level reducing the logistical hardship faced by people seeking redressal of their grievances against the government.

Finally, unless accountability laws are reformed and the present system of selective accountability is stopped, there is no hope for Pakistan to move towards the desired goal of a corruption free society.