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Friday April 19, 2024

A new NAB?

NAB has long been accused of being a tool for political victimization and coercion

By Editorial Board
February 25, 2024
This picture shows the headquarters of the National Accountability Bureau, Islamabad. — NAB website
This picture shows the headquarters of the National Accountability Bureau, Islamabad. — NAB website

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has issued new standard operating procedures (SOPs) to all its offices for fair handling of only genuine complaints, admitting that precious time and resources get wasted in processing non-cognizable complaints that adversely impairs efforts and impacts of Bureau’s operations.

A report published in this newspaper on Saturday has the details of the new SOPs, some of them being that in case of complaints against government servants, no anonymous complaint will be entertained; the identity of government officials will be kept strictly confidential during complain verification process; government officials will not be called in person in NAB premises during complaint verification and inquiry stage; and correspondence and sharing of information will be made through Accountability Facilitation Cells (AFCs), among other things. As for business persons, no anonymous complaint will be entertained; the identity of businessmen and women will be kept strictly confidential; and no businessman/woman will be summoned to NAB premises during the complaint verification stage, among others.

Experts say this seems like a good initiative given that the SOPs for government servants and businessmen can lead to more transparency. In the past, we have heard of complaints from politicians that bureaucrats have refused to sign important files because of the fear of NAB cases against those politicians if they ‘fall out of favour’. Businessmen have complained against NAB on multiple occasions for ruining their reputation as they go through a media trial due to allegations that sometimes later turn out to be false. Thus, these new SOPs are welcome but more needs to be done in order to ensure that this body is not used to target those who are out of favour.

NAB has long been accused of being a tool for political victimization and coercion. The original NAB law was draconian and had mainly been used for arm-twisting political opponents. This law was criticized by the judiciary, civil society, businessmen, bureaucracy and politicians as it was allowed to be exploited by political parties to further their own vested interests. In an 87-page ruling by Justice Maqbool Baqar in on a bail petition filed by PML-N leaders Khawaja Saad Rafique and Khawaja Salman Rafique back in 2020, the court said that NAB’s ‘conduct throughout this case is a clear manifestation of their utter disregard for law, fair play, equity and propriety’. On the National Accountability Ordinance 1999, the judgment added: ‘…these laws and the manner in which they were enforced … were framed and applied with an oblique motive of arm twisting and pressurizing political opponents into submission, subjugation and compliance, or remove them from the electoral scene at least temporarily’. This was just one judgment but there are many others in which NAB has been criticized for arbitrary arrests without evidence. A body that was made by a military dictator to coerce politicians into forming the King’s Party back then should have been defanged or wrapped up by politicians once Musharraf was out. But it took more than a decade for the PDM government in 2022 to bring some amendments to the draconian law. One hopes the incoming government is not tempted to use NAB to settle scores.