NAB’s crusade against corruption

The year 2014 can be considered the year of NAB’s rejuvenation in which many positive initiatives were taken

Asim Khan September 01, 2016
The author is a freelance writer with an interest in social issues of public importance

NAB is Pakistan’s apex anti-corruption organisation, which was established in 1999 and was assigned the responsibility of eliminating corruption. Headquartered in Islamabad and with eight regional offices located at Karachi, Peshawar, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Quetta, Multan and Sukkur, and a sub-office in Gilgit-Baltistan, it operates under the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO). Qamar Zaman Chaudhry, chairman of NAB, upon assuming office in 2013, had taken various measures to revamp the body and had chalked out an effective and comprehensive National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS) for eradication of corruption and corrupt practices from Pakistan. The NACS has been acknowledged by national and international organisations like PILDAT and Transparency International.

The year 2014 can be considered the year of NAB’s rejuvenation in which many positive initiatives were taken on the direction of the chairman to pursue corruption cases on merit and without any fear or favour under the enforcement strategy. With the strategy proving to be highly successful, NAB has decided to continue with it. The enforcement strategy’s salient features make it clear that it has all the ingredients to faciliate the nabbing of the corrupt. NAB is a complaint-driven organisation and its operations start functioning on the receipt of a written complaint about an alleged act of corruption and corrupt practices as defined under Section 9 of the NAO. The process is initiated with verification of the contents of the complaint and the applicability of the provisions of law. This process is called Complaint Verification wherein the complainant is called for confirming the complaint’s status and evidence available with him. Once it is determined that the alleged offence falls under the NAO and available material justifies further processing, NAB officers move on to the next step.

An inquiry under Section 18 of the NAO is authorised to confirm the committal of offence and collection of evidence to identify the alleged person(s) involved. The evidence collection process is supplemented by the recording of statements of witnesses and accused persons. The accused has the option of Voluntary Return (VR) at this stage to return the illegal gain and to avoid any fallout on his/her position in the form of conviction or any disqualification from holding public office. This whole process is completed after due deliberations at each level by giving consideration to the role of Combined Investigation Teams (CIT) and in the Regional Executive Board Meetings. NAB has rationalised the workload of its staff and timelines have been prescribed for efficient, effective and expeditious disposal of cases putting a maximum limit of 10 months — from complaint verification to inquiry to investigation and finally to filing a reference in an accountability court.

In order to ensure uniformity and standardisation, the standard operating procedures for investigation officers were reviewed and revised after a gap of 10 years in order to benefit from the experience and collective wisdom of senior supervisory officers. A system of CIT comprising a director, an additional director, an investigation officer and a senior legal counsel has been put in place. Once a criminal case is established and the accused does not return any ill-gotten gains, the inquiry is converted into an investigation under Section 18 (C) of the NAO to finalise the collection of evidence for filing of reference in the respective accountability court and to prosecute the accused with the objective of conviction and confiscation of proceeds of crime. During the investigation, the accused is provided with the opportunity to confront the evidence collected and also has the option of entering a plea bargain at this stage to return the illegal gain to avoid trials and imprisonment. The disposal of this stage is referred to the court for final approval.

NAB’s enforcement strategy starts with a soft initiative of fact-finding without blaming any person for any alleged act of corruption. The process moves with simple explanations from the complainant to clarify the charges against the accused and to confirm his position with material evidence if any. On the other hand, during inquiry, the collection of evidence vis-a-vis the allegations are verified with explanations given by the accused person and statements recorded from witnesses. If the stated version of the accused is found implausible, the matter moves forward. Failing at this stage and with the availability of cogent evidence, the investigation proceedings may cause arrest of the accused and with the option of plea bargain, which can disqualify the accused from holding public office or obtaining financial facility from banks. After finalisation of investigation, the trial proceedings are initiated against the accused where possible conviction may extend to 14 years of imprisonment with fine and/or confiscation of assets and properties owned by the accused or his family members. The disgrace that befalls the accused and his family apart from the constraints imposed on economic activities can prove to be a deterrent for corruption.

The operational arms of NAB are its regional bureaus, which are involved in field operations i.e., conduct of complaint verification inquiries, investigations, and prosecution of cases at trial and appellate stages. The operations division and prosecution division at NAB headquarters provide support for the smooth conduct of operational activities. The chairman has delegated some of his operational powers to regional directors general for prompt utilisation of these powers. NAB’s operational methodology and SOPs are the guiding principles of enforcement which provide for effective monitoring and accountability within the organisation. Operational decision-making passes through a consultative process, called the Executive Board Meetings, chaired by the chairman, and attended by senior officers at the headquarter and at the regional bureaus. Matters concerning placement of names on the Exit Control List, issuance of red notices against the absconders, requests for mutual legal assistance from foreign jurisdictions and extradition of fugitives from law are dealt with at the headquarters. All these matters along with the operational powers that cannot be delegated are exercised by the chairman on the recommendation of Operations and Prosecution Divisions.

The enforcement strategy has proved very successful in curbing white-collar crimes and has led to the recovery of proceeds of crime worth Rs277.9 billion since its inception. NAB has received 321,318 complaints, which were all disposed of according to law. NAB has authorised 7,124 inquiries, 3,616 investigations and has filed 2,610 references in the accountability courts. In a short span of 16 years, its performance has been excellent with an overall conviction rate of 75 per cent. NAB is committed to eradicating corruption across the board by adopting a zero tolerance policy against the corrupt.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 2nd, 2016.

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Parvez | 7 years ago | Reply @Mohammed: Boldly said.
Ali | 7 years ago | Reply The writer is critical that while filing the declaration the parliamentarians do not quote the market value of assets. Criticism smacks of ignorance about the taxation laws of Pakistan . These parliamentarians are not assessors and neither they are required to do so. Decals ration of asset is based on the provisions of income tax laws which only require the quoting of actual purchase and acquisition price. In case a returnee is selling a property , he will be required to declare the sale price. Express Tribune should entertain the comments before an incorrect view sticks in the mind of the reader . This may also be printed in letter to editor as everyone does nit have an access to Internet.
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