Holding NAB Accountable

The Chinese say that “a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step”. Institutionalizing accountability in Pakistan through the establishment of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) will be Pervez Musharraf’s lasting legacy. A few glaring missteps aside, Lt Gen Muhammad Amjad, the man who was the first head of NAB had his heart in the right place, was exceedingly lucky in the crucial first year to have Maj Gen (Retd) Ineyatullah Khan Niazi as his No 2, incidentally both from Lawrence College, Ghoragali. Even though NAB initially wrongly prioritized going after bank defaulters as opposed to outright corruption per se i.e. targetting businessmen rather than politicians and bureaucrats, NAB has done a remarkable job in prosecuting the white-collar corrupt in a country where the corrupt never got prosecuted.

Despite its successes NAB has suffered in public perception because, viz (1) an army general heads NAB rather than someone from the superior judiciary (2) inability to go after the corrupt in the superior judiciary and the Armed Forces and (3) wrong implementation of “plea bargaining”. Issues which became problematical later were, viz (4) selective accountability (5) NAB’s influencing of “positive” political leaning and (6) inability to provide concrete evidence against Asif Zardari for the many cases he is incarcerated for over 8 years, rank injustice! These six factors, taken separately and/or together, have tarnished and eroded NAB’s reputation for dispensing even-handed justice. There is also a seventh factor, viz some evidence that NAB has been used for vendettas from time to time, both personal and official.

Ch Shujaat Hussain says we must target the serving rather than past regimes, can he ensure impartial accountability and protect those who bring evidence against “gentleman (and gentlemen) of influence”? NAB will not move against corrupt elements in the superior judiciary or the Armed Forces, what can the citizens of this country do to ensure that the corrupt of this ilk do not escape justice? The President may not be involved in any corruption, if his friends and relatives use their influence to make money with or without his knowledge, they will escape indictment because of the “protection” afforded by the aura of Presidential power, again with or without his knowledge. From the evidence that we have over the past 6 years will anyone have the courage to stand up and apprise the President of the truth if something wrong is taking place? A pragmatic mechanism can ensure accountability post-regime, the caveat being that enquiry should have commenced when the regime was in power. What about those who use bribes to obtain undue advantage, they should also be prosecuted. Our desperation for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) notwithstanding, if foreigners involved in subverting the integrity of any of our officials must also be prosecuted, at the very least all their assets with the country must be confiscated, whoever they may be. We must restore our honour and dignity as an independent sovereign entity. What about informing their governments that their citizens and commercial entities are involved in commercial subversion? If they are US citizens and culpable, would they escape under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act?

“Plea bargaining” is extremely frustrating for citizens who see white-collar criminals escape incarceration by promising to return part of the loot. In “Plea bargaining” is basically used as “State’s evidence” so that the main accused do not escape punishment. NAB’s present application allows criminals to enjoy the major part of the loot if they return a part of what they robbed. NAB’s Muneer Hafeez justifies “plea bargaining” as a blanket amnesty for well-heeled corporate criminals necessary in recovering the looted money what is stopping the accused from using their ill-gotten money as bribes to escape on “plea bargaining”? Confinement of the guilty person and confiscation of all his (or her) property in lieu of that loot, will act as a deterrent for others. Since hardly anybody keeps assets in his (or her name), the law should be framed to allow indicting of relatives and friends unless they can prove legitimate earnings. The sons (and daughters) of the present elite are prospering because of the sins of their fathers in earlier regimes, the corrupt of one generation becoming legitimate in the next. What is stopping them from eventually taking control of the State through the blatant purchase of loyalties in third world “democracies” like ours? What is the motivation of those promoting/protecting such people? Gambling, prostitution, bootlegging, gun-running, smuggling, etc went hand in hand with legitimate business in the US from the 20s well into the 60s till the FBI become really effective against “organized crime”. Subsequent generations shed their criminal image, sending their sons and daughters to colleges and universities, to the armed forces and civil service, and even into the judiciary, infiltrating every strata of government and civil affairs to exist as responsible pillars of society. Many crime syndicate families now live normal legitimate lives as first class citizens. The movie thereof “Godfather” had its Sicilian roots in the naked truth.

The smugglers of the 50s and 60s are openly considered the pillars of Pakistan’s commerce and society, not much separating them from the civil and military personnel who have looted the state’s treasury. Contemptuous of the laws of the land they flagrantly flaunt their ill-gotten millions, investing in commerce and industry to make it legitimate, some do not even bother to conceal their past. For the ordinary citizen who makes his (or her) living the hard way, it is particularly frustrating to the point of boiling over, the schism could lead to a class war. Hundreds and thousands of retired personnel of the civil service, the bureaucracy, the military and the superior judiciary who have earned an honest livelihood, openly lament the fact as to why they did not avail the opportunity to make money when they could have. Their meager pensions are not life-sustaining, they live in virtual penury as living symbols to our present and future generations that honesty does not pay.

NAB’s inaction devolves responsibility on the citizens of the State to ensure that those escaping retribution remain subject to accountability not only in the present but in the next one or the next one or the next one, etc this has to be done while remaining within the ambit of the laws of the land. The prospects of retribution being visited on them or their children sometime in the future will act as a deterrent, the corrupt will operate with some anxiety. NAB itself must be held accountable, responsibility starting at the very top. Culpable failure of NAB officials to process known cases for prosecution must be charged with “benign neglect” for not pursuing cases under the influence of authority, money, alcohol, undue favours, etc. Without casting any aspersion on anyone particular, this country cannot afford NAB officials well-known to be susceptible to women and whisky, the party circuit is out for them! The PM says NAB should be headed by someone from the judiciary, the Chairman could be from the Army or the superior judiciary or from the private sector, to quote Deng Tsao Peng, “it doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white as long as it eats mice”. He should be a person of impeccable moral character (someone of the stature and integrity of Air Marshal Asghar Khan) and should not be vulnerable to moral subversion.

Non-Governmental Organization (NGOs) can set up “Citizen’s Accountability Cells” on the pattern of Citizen Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) for prosecution of white-collar crime in every town and city. With the volunteered services of lawyers, retired civil, police and military officials, businessman, etc forming “panels of inquiry” to investigate corruption cases. The details of the enquiry, with statements under oath, can be sent to NAB by the NGOs, one “clearing house” being used for dispatch. If NAB for any reason does not prosecute the case, a copy of the enquiry should be sent under sealed covers to the Supreme Court and the Federal Ombudsman, the Provincial High Court and the Provincial Ombudsman (if it is a Provincial subject) with a copy to NAB (duly received) under a computerized system for future reference purposes. With a sealed indictment in place the incumbent regime will not be accused of persecuting those of the previous regime without reason. To prevent witchunting for the sake of witchunting, those found making accusations for motivated reasons should be liable to be prosecuted for making false accusation, and also for perjury, liable for the same punishment that the person being falsely accused would have faced, the guilt of perjury ensuring double jeopardy.