Will NAB brace its role under new emcee?

Recently, the federal government has appointed Lieutenant General (retd) Nazir Ahmad Butt as the National Accountability Bureau’s Chairman for a three-year term. According to the official press release of the Ministry of Law and Justice, the appointment had been made by the federal government after a consensus between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Raja Riaz. The appointment had been made for a non-extendable three years, while the powerful executive could not be removed from the chairman NAB office except on the grounds and in the manner, as provided in Article 209 of the Constitution

The office of the Chairman NAB is the most important and sensitive position in the country after the top slots of the Army Chief and the Chief Justice of Pakistan, while it became more controversial and troublesome after massive political victimization and dubious conduct of the top brass of the country’s elite anti-graft watchdog in recent years. After the former Chairman of NAB Mr. Aftab Sultan suddenly stepped down prematurely on alleged political interference and pressure from the government for harassment of its opponents. The appointment of a new NAB Chairman amid the controversial resignation of its predecessor and a pretty collusion between the so-called leader of the 10 members’ opposition and the Prime Minister speaks volumes about the spongy arrangement that could be fatal for the anti-graft watchdog and the country at large if the new Chairman does not walk away from the party or bureaucratic lines. The opposition is preparing to challenge this appointment in the court on political grounds, yet the department must seek an impartial and constitutional role to rebuild its trust in the public.

Constitutionally, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) owes a very important role in the elimination of corruption, accountability of public office holders, and strengthening anti-money laundering efforts in the country, but this important national institution fell victim to a political bargain between the ruling party and the opposition, political interference and biased prosecution of public office holders. Meanwhile, recurrent legislation by successive governments such as excluding bureaucracy, military, and judiciary from NAB’s mandate along with defining a minimum threshold for prosecutable corruption left only a limited space for the watchdog to test its expertise.

Founded in 1999, as the nation’s sole anti-graft watchdog to combat corruption, economic terrorism, and financial crimes, the regulating body gradually became a political tool in the hands of the ruling elite over the past 24 years. NAB’s philosophy of plea bargain not only promoted corruption within its ranks but undermined national accountability efforts and set a trend for whitewashing of black money through out-of-court settlements. Similarly, the Broadsheet case and the $28 million fine by the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) are unfading stains on NAB’s reputation that raise multiple questions regarding the character and conduct of its past high-ups and will be lessons for current and future leaders forever.

According to the. Transparency International Global Corruption Perception Index 2022, Pakistan stood 140th least corrupt nation out of 180 countries. These figures clearly illustrate that the menace of corruption boomed in the past years despite the presence of massive anti-corruption infrastructure in the country. There is an urgent need that the government and concerned departments to gauge their performance vis-a-vis the growth of financial crimes. Currently, Pakistan has all the essential institutions, human talent, and capabilities to build a modern nation but we lack sincere leadership and loyal bureaucracy, as and when we make it the nation will groom in no time.