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May 29, 2020

Rise of partial watchdogs


May 29, 2020

LAHORE: The rule of law is on decline in Pakistan. The anti-corruption watchdog is politically selective in registering cases against people like Mir Shakil ur Rehman, when the amended NAB ordinance banned targeting businessmen.

Mir is in fact a prisoner of conscience, who has refused to succumb to the pressure of the authorities to go soft on the irregularities committed by them.

It includes the NAB chairman, whose immoral video was highlighted by his group (although the same was aired by many channels and on social media). In addition, he committed the crime of exposing the bad governance and corruption committed by various political members of this government.

In a nation tuned to democracy, free speech and at least a semblance of rule of law, you cannot even dream of economic growth by blatant violation of law. Media is the eyes and ears of all successful rulers.

It guides to right course by regularly pointing out flaws in governance and policies. Prudent rulers respect the opposite opinion and indulge in dialogue to explain their point of view.

They change policies if they are convinced. In Pakistan, the state has unleashed NAB on all its opponents.

This government claims that NAB is an independent body. But then the anti-corruption watchdog remains a silent spectator in many high profile corruption cases committed by members of the current regime.

Peshawar Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service is one example that in length and scope is nominally smaller than the Lahore Metro Bus project. The latter was completed below coat of Rs40 billion in record time of one year.

Its chief executor faced the wrath of NAB for irregularities worth few hundred million. He was kept under lockup for 90 days and got bail when nothing was proved. Later, he was nabbed in another case, in which nothing has been proved despite a passage of over a year.

On the other hand, Peshawar BRT that was scheduled for completion in one year remains unfinished even after three years. The project cost has escalated from Rs40 billion to Rs80 billion (some say it has touched Rs100).

It is unfortunate that NAB never took this corruption or regulatory seriously. Recovery of Rs40-Rs60 billion from the Peshawar BRT is not a priority for NAB chairman.

Recovery of this amount should have priority over the alleged irregularities of Mir Shakil ur Rehman, Ahad Cheema and numerous others who have been lingering in jails for a long time without tangible evidence.

Even if the allegations are proved (which is highly unlikely), the recovery would be less than Rs10 billion (if all cases against the two named and many other bureaucrats are proved). Why can the NAB not go after big fish, where getting evidence has brighter prospects? I am sure that NAB has not yet even started collected evidence again the Peshawar BRT.

There is also the Malamjabba case, in which another high profile individual is involved. It is true that alleged culprits have taken refuge against stay order from court.

But has NAB pursued that case seriously to ask the court for vacation of court order. The NAB moves the Supreme Court when a politician belonging to the opposition is granted bail even by high courts.

Why does the accountability bureau lodge similar appeals when a senior Punjab minister and a provincial mining minster were granted bails by the courts?

Why is it that Mir Shakeel Ur Rehman is languishing in jail for 75 days, when the NAB has not even presented its challan in the court?

One must ask the question as to how a 29-year-old case with no registered FIR, suddenly become important enough to use against an individual to continue his persecution, and for what purpose. Such tactics have also earned a bad name globally for the higher courts in the country.

Dissent is something that this regime cannot tolerate. One recent example in this regard is that of Khalid Mirza, the former chairman of the Policy Board of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP).

The government removed him as chairman and member of the policy board. He appealed at Islamabad High Court and was reinstated.

A month later, the regulator received letter from NAB asking the department to start enquiry against Mirza for alleged irregularities in appointments in policy board.

The factual position is that no policy board member or chairman has the authority to make any appointment. They are there to regulate and advise SECP on regulatory affairs from the secretarial staff provided by it.

Mirza subsequently resigned as chairman of the policy board, but retained the post of it as member. Now, another NAB reminder on the issue has been sent to the regulator. Perhaps the purpose is to force Mirza to resign as a member as well.