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October 11, 2018

Govt admits NAB officials face mindset problem

Top Story

October 11, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The PTI government admits that National Accountability Bureau (NAB) officers have a mindset problem and very limited skills of investigation, and need immediate training to build their professional capacity.

Mirza Shahzad Akbar, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Accountability, told The News said that a task force to recover assets from abroad is working to evolve strategies to bring back money stashed in foreign banks. A draft new law for mutual legal assistance (MLA) would be presented to the federal cabinet within a week, he said.

Shahzad said that many Pakistanis have illegally amassed wealth through tax evasion and corruption, and have hidden this illicit money in bank accounts in various countries, including Switzerland.

“As the previous governments were not sincere in bringing this wealth back, neither any legislation was enacted, nor any talks held with the countries where these plundered monies were parked so as to evolve methods to recover these amounts belonging to Pakistan,” Shahzad said.

“A draft of a new law meant to centralise the process of making of MLA requests to other countries for different purposes, and to address many other issues relating to MLAs, is almost ready and being finalised,” he said.

Asked whether his team had any information about specific individuals who have looted money and stashed it abroad, Shahzad said that there was an abundance of leads which require investigation.

In addition to the task force, a cabinet committee comprising Shahzad, the law minister, attorney general, and NAB chairman and prosecutor-general, was working to improve the accountability law, and to reform the institution of NAB, instead of abolishing it.

“There is no doubt that NAB officials lack investigation skills and understanding of issues related to corruption, and there is a mindset to harass or pressurise any accused person without any reason,” he said.

“Being a practicing lawyer, many of my clients have told me how NAB officers used to harass them and make them sit and wait for hours just to ask few questions in some inquiry,” he said.

Akbar said all this needs to be changed. Merely changing the NAB law on this count would not help and the overall mindset needs to be changed. He said that the entire NAB needs to be overhauled and many changes in the NAB law are required to improve the methodology of investigation.

“As a first step, we have asked NAB to itself come up with suggestions to improve and reform its overall system of investigation and prosecution,” Shahzad said.

After NAB gave its suggestions, the cabinet committee would seek advice from experts, he said. Shahzad was of the view that very first problem is that of the overlapping jurisdictions for accountability. The Federal Investigation Agency, provincial anti-corruption departments, and other institutions do the same thing, he said. The FIA has no powers so could not deliver, whereas the NAB has powers but misuses them, Shahzad said.

He said the cabinet committee could also co-opt members from other institutions, and its initial meetings were attended by representatives from the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan and State Bank of Pakistan. Shahzad said no deadline had been set to finalize these reforms, but expected the process of restructuring and overhauling the NAB would be completed within the next one-and-a-half years. But when one is working on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s team, even one year is too much for the task at hand, and it would be completed much earlier, Shahzad said.

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