Merger of FIA, NAB proposed

Irshad Ansari July 28, 2010

ISLAMABAD: The federal government is likely to establish a new autonomous anti-corruption institution for accountability in public sector enterprises, sources said.

A study commissioned by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) on accountability of public sector has suggested merger of anti-corruption functions of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) with those of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to create a specialised and autonomous “Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA)”.

The study has been conducted by the Directorate-General of Training and Research (Inland Revenue).

The study also suggests elimination of political interference in transfers and postings of tax officials for smooth functioning of the tax machinery. The multiplicity of investigating agencies creates problems in probing corruption cases and financial crimes, it said.

The FIA will be able to focus on its core functions of immigration and, subsequently, anti-terrorism after the merger.

The study notes that prevention of corruption has so far been missing from the anti corruption apparatus in this country. So-called mega corruption, for example, is usually seen in major contracts and public procurement. In both these areas in the public sector, the procedures are tedious and lack transparency.

The study urges institutional strengthening of anti-corruption agencies. “Human resource capacity needs to be urgently upgraded, for example, by improving training provision via a centralised training regime, particularly in areas such as money laundering, forensic auditing, computers and collection of evidence,” it says.

Better co-ordination between the two (merged entities) will be facilitated by the development of a shared database, the study says, adding: “Ensuring the integrity of agency officials will be paramount. Increased pay, integrity testing and robust assets declaration and monitoring systems will be critical.”

The DOT report also calls for eliminating the OSD culture. Fixed tenures, decision making by participative committees, performance evaluation systems and examinations determining promotion decisions are useful tools.  Increasing civil service remuneration and meritocracy will promote the value of being competent, the study says.

There is a need of strong institutional leadership with integrity. Appointing high-calibre officers on merit is the first step.  “Then, we need to give them the autonomy, authority, resources, skills and security against political interference they need to be able to rid their institutions of corruption,” the report says, and goes on to add, “we need to reward them adequately for this. The civil service needs to attract and retain individuals with skill and integrity. This requires meritocracy in the recruitment process and adequate remuneration.”

Clearly, recommending this is easier than doing it in practice, the study acknowledges.  “However, it must be cognizant that without improvements in pay, any anti-corruption initiatives may only have a limited impact.  Reducing corruption, for example in revenue collection, can help finance improved remuneration,” it adds.

Other key tools to reform ethics will be clear codes of conduct, developed in a participatory manner by each institution, within an overall framework, which includes a law banning conflict of interest.

The report says that there is an urgent need to simplify and codify key rules and procedures. Discretionary powers must be curtailed where possible, including by the standardisation of processes and fees/charges, using automation where possible. One-window operations, e-government and other initiatives can reduce face to face official/customer contact.  Where face-to-face contact cannot be reduced, systems are required to ensure that officials and customers cannot build collusive relationships.

The report says that the Auditor General’s office must increase its relevance and effectiveness. It should transform its role from one of undertaking retrospective transaction audit to validating management assertions about internal controls and the financial governance environment.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2010.


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