Corruption has only mushroomed

NAB needs to be reformed into an efficient anti-corruption body

M Ziauddin July 31, 2020
The writer served as executive editor of The Express Tribune from 2009 to 2014

Prime Minister Imran Khan came to power promising to rid the nation of what he seemed to have recognised as its biggest flaw — corruption. But two years down the line the flaw seems to have only deepened. Neither has the government recovered any of the ‘looted’ money, nor has it succeeded in sending to jail the ‘looters’ who using their public position alleged to have made private pelf.

There is also nothing much in terms of PTI government’s performance to set it apart from its predecessors. Its governance and management of the economy — if not worse than of the PML-N –certainly has been no better.

Still, had it not been for the pathetic performance of NAB, perhaps the government would have completed the two years without losing much of its political goodwill.

The government let NAB continue doing its job seemingly without any pause or hindrance. But when the Bureau relentlessly went after the high-profile opposition leadership, it appeared as if it was doing a partisan job. The government kept claiming publicly that it had nothing to do with what NAB was doing. But in the same breath it kept contradicting the claim by shouting from every rooftop that it would not let the ‘chors and dacoos’ go unpunished.

But as the time passed nothing positive that could be held as a grand success of government’s anti-corruption campaign emerged from the NAB’s court rooms. Increasing resort to media trials to cover up the Bureau’s investigative and prosecution weaknesses started yielding counter-productive results. Even those among the media persons who had willingly joined the media trial campaign as some kind of religious crusade, started questioning the government’s single-minded pursuit of the corruption campaign against the opposition to the neglect of even governance and economic management. Meanwhile, right under its very nose a new jumma bazaar of mega corruption was mushrooming, being indulged in allegedly by some of the prominent members of the coalition government itself.

NAB was not only pursuing a partisan policy but was actually defending it publicly saying ‘we go by the case not by the face’. Meanwhile, some of the observations made by Supreme and High Courts in their judgments in bail cases actually cast serious doubts about the workings of NAB. These observations accused the real rulers of the country of using the Bureau for political engineering.

Generally, white collar crimes are difficult to solve. In fact, it becomes almost an insurmountable challenge when one tries to prove these cases beyond a shadow of doubt in a court of law, no matter how strong the evidence. It is like trying to follow the footprints of someone who had walked on ice.

That is perhaps why the performance of NAB has remained so shoddy since it was set up in 1999. The low quality professional standards of the Bureau’s prosecution and investigation personnel have also added considerably to the Bureau’s shoddiness. And because of the mindless pursuit of cases with dubious evidence, the Bureau had, on the one hand, brought to a virtual standstill the civil administration and on the other seriously disrupted the business activities as both civil servants and businessmen were allegedly being blackmailed into ‘singing’ against the arrested politicians.

When a society practises liberal democracy along with free market economy, it becomes almost impossible to keep the incidence of white collar crime under control through the normal laws. Indeed, because of the elusive nature of such crimes it has been universally recognised that preemption rather tackling them after the fact was perhaps a more prudent approach to minimise their occurrence. In civilised societies white collar crimes are kept under control by setting up statutory regulatory bodies autonomous of their respective ministries and at the same time by enlarging space for the development of a strong parliament, a truly independent judiciary and a genuinely fearless media.

Of course, in the meanwhile, NAB needs to be reformed into an efficient anti-corruption body and its top personnel replaced with professionally competent ones and quickly too so that the Bureau refrains from arresting the accused without evidence that would stand in a court of law.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2020.

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