Making Accountability Effective

(Image via NAB)
(Image via NAB)

Given the nexus between corruption, organized crime and terrorism, the targeting of corruption has been compromised by our rather deliberate lackadaisical attitude. Corruption has subverted our society to the extent that instead of trying to hide their guilt the corrupt instead revel in it.  Many who got away with “plea bargaining” have even been decorated with civil awards.  The sheer apathy in implementing the National Action Plan (NAP) is only the tip of the iceberg that can sink the proverbial Pakistani Titanic. Giving the National Security Advisor (NSA) “administrative control” of NAP is a joke. No appointment symbolizes how much degraded we have become and to what depths we have sunk to than in the person presently occupying the august post of the Federal Ombudsman. With corruption an integral part of our lives, our misfortune has been force-multiplied by being burdened, albeit “democratically”, by some very corrupt rulers (both civil and military, advised by some opportunistic unprincipled bureaucrats).

After the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) recovered over Rs 50 billion bank defaulters in the first two years, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) convinced military dictator General Pervez Musharraf that investment by entrepreneurs in new business ventures was becoming shy. A Second Amendment Ordinance 2000 thereafter restrained NAB despite enormous amounts of monies still lying unrecovered.

NAB’s “plea bargain” concept allowing those found guilty of returning only a portion of the money looted by them in return for not being incarcerated is a farce.  Used as “investment” in business and real estate, some of these “tycoons” went into the media business, using the fourth estate as a “self-protection” mechanism.

Into the fifth month since the “Panama Leaks”, the PML (N) govt is determined neither to give any explanation nor account for the sources of income allowing some of the Prime Minister’s (PM’s) family members to use offshore companies to buy expensive property abroad and avoid paying taxes against their property.  Controversy has bedevilled discussing the terms of reference (ToRs) to appoint a judicial commission to investigate the matter both inside and outside Parliament. PPP’s Aitzaz Ahsan may be sincere about putting the PM in the dock but given Zardari’s corruption baggage that they “carry”, is the PPP sincere about accountability regarding the “Panama Leaks”? Is Imran Khan so politically naïve that PPP will not soon pull the rug from under PTI’s feet? The state machinery comprising FBR, NAB, SBP or the SECP have been successfully emasculated against any possible enquiry.    To add to that, instead of going after the known corrupt, the Supreme Court (SC) has now moved “suo-moto” against those officers in the NAB prominent in catching the corrupt.   Any indicators why, and where we are heading?  With all due respects to their Lordships, to me it is clear warning for these honest officers (and others) not to dare target the corrupt!

National Accountability Bureau Ordinance (NAO) provisions allows Chairman NAB to (1) use suo moto powers of Section 18(b)(iii)  which says “on its own accord a reference under this Ordinance shall be initiated by the NAB” so that the individuals indicated in “Panama Leaks” to be served with Assets Declaration Forms under Application Clause (Section 4) read with Section 9 (Corruption and Corrupt Practices). (2) use Section 21 for a request for Mutual Legal Assistance under international cooperation for evidence collection from foreign jurisdictions and (3) Form Joint Investigation Teams (JITs) under Section 27 of NAO embedding FMU (Financial Monitoring Unit) entrusted with Anti Money-Laundering Act,  with attorneys having international level exposure and investigators from FBR, FIA, Police and NAB heading the teams and International law firms having private investigators could be co-opted to assist.

The Presumption for a trial provided in Section 14 says “if the accused fails to satisfactory account, of property or pecuniary resources disproportionate to his known sources of income, Court shall presume, unless contrary is proved that accused person is guilty of the offence of corruption and corrupt practices and his conviction shall not be invalid by reason only that it is based solely on such a presumption”. So why is NAB shy of issuing those hundred or so letters simply asking for their explanation?  Being a very real and a direct threat to Pakistan’s national security, this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tackle corruption head on, must also target the broad spectrum of those who facilitate it.

Not surprising that with almost all members of the political parties having extremely poor tax records, there is deliberate apathy about tax evasion and illegal flight of capital. Despite Pakistan having very effective laws for anti-money laundering and countering financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) in line with an action plan that was agreed with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), how do we conform to international standards without effective implementation of laws?  To its credit, going for “financial inclusion” for the 85% unbanked SBP is putting in electronic measures having a bio-metric electronic footprint, this will serve to eliminate “Hawalas”. This despite the fact that within the SBP there is an element that is apprehensive of technology and what it can accomplish. It is almost impossible to prove a crime in court without conducting a thorough investigation while our methods of investigation remain outdated, invariably political influence waylays criminal investigations.

To be fair to NAB, it’s resolve to crack down on political corruption immediately drew immediate opposition from some politicians who accused the institution of overreach. The PM even warned of clipping NAB’s wings in case the investigation continued. In such a scenario, can anyone truly expect NAB to be able to honestly investigate the family of a sitting PM? NAB’s statute books give it the authority to investigate those living beyond their known means of income and indulging in corruption, why does NAB not do so?

Very recently a senior retired Army officer in his 80s, the father of a close friend of mine, was taken into custody by NAB.  My friend requested me to intercede.  Instead of becoming defensive, NAB officials patiently explained the entire facts of the case even though they could have chosen not to. They were right in their thorough investigation.  While being thankful to NAB for having treated my friend’s father (who returned the money in question in full) with decency, other glaring cases of looting exorbitant amounts of money where politically well-connected are involved exist. Why is NAB not going after them? Their achievements notwithstanding, in the context of the politically influential, one must paraphrase Lord Nelson at Trafalgar, “Pakistan expects the NAB Chairman to do his duty”!

The writer is a defense and security analyst.

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