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August 8, 2020

NAB’s shenanigans

Editorial

 
August 8, 2020

As the main government agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting allegations of corruption, the National Accountability Bureau needs to be purer than the driven snow. Any hint of impropriety calls into question its credibility. However, the role played by NAB continues to be controversial. Most recently, according to reports circulating widely NAB has sent out notices to Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and Maryam Nawaz Sharif asking them to appear before the body on August 12 and 11 respectively. The news about this notification, according to the media, was leaked from NAB sources to the press but is not being made public. The PML-N has said it can only give a response on the matter of Maryam Nawaz once it has received official communication while there is conjecture that the notice to Buzdar may be a step that is intended to eventually remove him as Punjab CM. The activities of NAB then remain as mysterious as ever. The Supreme Court in its judgment on July 20 in the case of Khawaja Saad Rafiq had warned NAB against harassing people or unnecessarily holding them in detention without proof.

The matter of NAB and the manner in which it operates has now also become an international one. Human Rights Watch has in a new report condemned the actions of NAB and termed them political victimization aimed at quashing politicians who speak out against the sitting government or are targeted by it for some reason. HRW has urged authorities in Pakistan to study the SC order and ensure it is followed. The watchdog body has also referred to the case of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and asked why he continues to be detained.

It has also been noted that while members of the opposition continue to be vigorously pursued by NAB, and efforts made to embarrass them whenever possible, members of the ruling party are in many cases protected. NAB’s own investigating officers have also been accused of petty harassment with the business community making open complaints. This cannot continue. NAB was set up by military dictator General Pervez Musharraf. Its powers are enormous and have been criticized by courts. While we need accountability, it is essential that it be transparent, visible to all citizens and applicable across the board. The main lesson from the past few years is that the process of accountability should not only play no favourites, it must be as public as possible so that we know that those who are tasked with rooting out corruption do not have one hand in the till themselves.