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December 3, 2019

Amending NAB


December 3, 2019

For some time, we have been hearing about concerns within the bureaucracy regarding the working of NAB and what is perceived by bureaucrats as harassment or threatening behaviour. In a meeting of senior bureaucrats held in the middle of October it was noted that, while the government wanted an efficient and transparent government, this could not be possible until bureaucrats felt comfortable in their role and were willing to carry forward its agenda. Federal secretaries have now met and prepared an amended draft for NAB laws which will soon be presented before the prime minister for approval. The amendments suggest that the federal government should be given responsibility for applying NAB’s laws to cases involving over Rs500 million rather than the president and NAB chairman having responsibility – as is currently the case.

The amendments also suggest that NAB’s authority to call government officials be removed and its period of remand be reduced to 14 days instead of 90 days. It is also being proposed that provincial courts be given a shorter timeframe to determine case and that a scrutiny committee made up of a secretary of the cabinet division, establishment division, chairman FBR, chairman SECP, a law official and secretary of the concerned division be established, rather than one headed by the chairperson of NAB. The bureaucrats also suggested that no member of the civil service be arrested without the approval of the scrutiny committee which should ensure that a full investigation is initiated.

Tackling corruption has been a key agenda for the PTI government. It is, however, obvious that government officials feel threatened by the policies in place in cases in which arrests have been made in the absence of solid proof. It is also a fact that no government can operate smoothly without cooperation and support from the bureaucracy. The committee of secretaries has assured the government that it too wants a welfare state as well as financial justice. But this can only happen if the bureaucracy is able to work dynamically and on modern lines. It is also emphasized that an amicable environment is necessary for it to do so and that the decisions taken by the bureaucracy should not be treated as criminal offences. It is inevitable that in some cases misjudgements may be made without any mala fide intent; according to analysts, the bureaucracy is at a standstill because it fears making any decisions. The reaction of the government to the proposals put before it will be interesting. The government itself is inexperienced and like every political setup needs civil servants to work alongside it. If they are so reluctant to do so, problems will inevitably arise holding back action and efficiency.

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