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NAB effective enforcement strategy yielding positive dividends

Islamabad

July 18, 2019

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was established in November 16, 1999. NAB has its Headquarters in Islamabad, while it has eight regional offices, in Karachi, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Balochistan, Multan, Sukkur and Gilgit-Baltistan.

NAB is Pakistan’s apex anti-corruption organisation. It is assigned with the responsibility of elimination of corruption through a holistic approach of awareness, prevention and enforcement. It operates under the National Accountability Ordinance-1999. NAB Chairman Justice (r) Javed Iqbal after assuming the charge of his office, stressed upon all ranks of officers of NAB to actively pursue corruption cases without any fear and favor adding that beside awareness and prevention, enforcement is also very important aspect of NAB’s strategy to control corruption and corrupt practices.

Pakistan has achieved its best Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 116 issued by the Transparency International. NAB derives its legal mandate from NAO-1999, which is extended, to whole of Pakistan including FATA and Gilgit Baltistan. NAO mandated the NAB to adopt a three-pronged strategy for curbing corruption from the country. Besides, awareness and prevention, the enforcement strategy of NAB is chalked out on the directions of Justice Javed (r) Iqbal who has given emphasis to create deterrence among the functionaries to check indulgence in the acts of corruption. NAO with its overriding effect has been effective application in handling the corrupt elements and recovery of crime proceeds. Therefore, NAO in its entirety has been ranked the best anti-corruption law and is being replicated in other countries of similar nature, which is a pride for Pakistan.

Enforcement Strategy

Under the leadership of NAB chairman, NAB’s enforcement strategy start functioning on receipt of a written complaint or information by NAB about an alleged act of corruption & corrupt practices as defined under section 9. The process initiated with verification of the contents of the information received and the applicability of the provisions of law. This process is called Complaint Verification (CV) wherein the complainant is called for confirming the status and evidence available with him.

Once it is determined that the alleged offence falls under NAO and available material justifies for further process, the same is processed for subsequent action. In the second step, inquiry under section 18 of the NAO is authorised to confirm the committal of offence and collection of evidence to identify the alleged person(s) involved. The record/evidence collection process is supplemented with recording of statements of witnesses and accused persons. The alleged person has the option of Voluntary Return (VR) at this stage to return the illegal gain and to avoid any fallout on his/her position in the form of conviction or any disqualification for holding public office. This whole process is completed after due deliberations at each level by giving consideration to the role of Combined Investigation Teams (CITs) and in the Regional Executive Board Meetings (RBMs).

Once a criminal case is established and the accused is unable to return the ill gotten/pecuniary resources, inquiry is converted into investigation under section 18(C) to finalise the collection of evidence for filing of reference/challan in the respective accountability court and to prosecute him with the objective of conviction and confiscation of proceeds of crime. During the investigation, the accused is provided opportunity to confront with the evidence collected. The accused has the option of Plea Bargain (PB) at this stage to return the illegal gain to avoid trials and imprisonment. In any case, the disposal of this stage is referred to the court for final approval.

The enforcement strategy of NAB starts with soft initiative of fact finding without blaming any person for an alleged act of corruption. The process moves with simple explanations from the complainant to clarify the charges against accused and to confirm his position with material evidence if any. On the other hand, during inquiry, the collection of evidence viz-a-viz the allegations are verified with the explanations given by the accused person and statements recorded from the witnesses. If the stated version of accused is found implausible, the matter moves for option of accepting guilt and offering for voluntary return of assets or gain acquired as a consequence of an offence committed under NAO but voluntary process is stopped till further orders in order to implement Judgment of Supreme Court of Pakistan as the matter is subjudice in the court of law.

Failing at this stage and with the availability of cogent evidence, the proceedings may causes arrest of the accused and with the option of plea bargain, carrying disqualification to hold public office or to obtain financial facility from banks. The acceptance of Plea Bargain of an accused is recommended by NAB after due diligence to accountability court for acceptance of plea bargain.

The tougher stage approached when after finalisation of investigation, the trial proceedings initiated and the accused persons are facing for charges of corruption and corrupt practices framed by the accountability court and where possible conviction which may extend to fourteen years regress imprisonment with fine and or confiscation of assets and properties in the name of accused or his family members.

The operational arms of NAB are its regional bureaus, which involved in field operations i.e. conduct of CVs, inquiries, investigations, prosecution of cases at trial and appellate stages. The Operations Division and Prosecution Division at NAB Headquarters are providing all supports for smooth conduct of operational activities in accordance with law and the Standing Operating Procedures (SOPs). The Operational Strategy and the SOPs are the guiding principles of enforcement, which provide for effective monitoring and accountability within the organisation. The operational decision making is passing through a consultative process, called the Executive Board Meetings (EBMs), chaired by the chairman and participated by the senior officers at headquarters and the regions via video-links. The matters concerning placement on Exit Control List, issuance of Red Notices against absconding accused, requests for mutual legal assistance from foreign jurisdictions and extradition of fugitives from law are dealt as per law by NAB Headquarters.

The enforcement in the past has proved an effective tool of curbing white-collar crimes and led to recovery of proceeds of crime worth Rs326 billion and with overall convictions of 70%. Under the dynamic leadership of Justice (r) Javed Iqbal, NAB’s effective enforcement strategy has started yielding positive dividends in order to fight against corruption. Due to the efforts of NAB that for the first time Anti-Corruption has been made a part of development agenda in Pakistan in the context of governance. NAB hopes that collective efforts of all stakeholders would be helpful in materialising the dream of corruption free Pakistan.

The writer is NAB Chairman.

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