The tendrils of suspicion always begin to advance when any government seeks to limit its own watchdogs. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) operates under the National Accountability Ordinance 1999, and its sole purpose is to eliminate corruption using what is described as a holistic approach that encompasses “awareness, prevention and enforcement”. It is the latter that is giving a soupcon of unease to the ruling dispensation. The NAB has been getting distinctly long-fingered of late as those that run the show in Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) have been discovering. This extension of the digits of accountability is not sitting easily with the corporate paradigm that dominates Punjab, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is giving every indication that his government will take pre-emptive action if, as he opines, the NAB is “harassing” government officers to the point at which they are afraid of taking decisions, signing off on project files and “hindering them from performing their duty”.
Accountability is seemingly fine so long as it is at arm’s length and firmly under the federal and provincial government’s thumbs. The prime minister has indicated his displeasure at the activities of the NAB which, he says, has entered the houses of “innocent people” sans any authentic reason for doing so. Further partiality is alleged by the PPP in Sindh. In K-P, the DG of the Ehtesab Commission resigned in the last week protesting against the promulgation of an ordinance by the provincial government amending the Ehtesab Act of 2015. In the PML-N back-garden, the NAB is enquiring closely into projects such as the Metro Bus and the Orange Line train in Lahore. Discomfort abounds.
Whilst we in no way condone the NAB exceeding its mandate, the level of corruption and its presence in every corner of public life and service is such that any investigation is going to ruffle feathers on every bird in the nest. No political party and no state institution are anywhere near free of malfeasance. Every project, no matter how well planned or intended, has corruption somewhere inside it. The NAB may need to be a little more prudent, but have its wings clipped? Certainly not.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2016.
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