Failed accountability

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  • Accountability should be carried out, but not for political ends

 

Holding public officials accountable for their actions is the beauty of a true democracy. Having to answer for the decisions made or wealth amassed whilst serving on a public post is phenomenal and always appreciated. But when accountability leaks out a stench of selectiveness and unfolds as a game of cherry picking, then the entire process becomes questionable and the shadow of doubt buries underneath it the true purpose of accountability.

Promulgated by a dictator in uniform, the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999, paved the way to hold politicians and other holders of public office liable for their actions. The National Accountability Bureau, which came into existence following the promulgation of the Ordinance, is the primary body responsible for the accountability process. Armed with unfettered discretion, the Bureau enjoys vast powers to inquire into, investigate and prosecute any and all forms of corrupt practices, including misuse of authority, and even attempts to do the same. Even though some of the basic rights available under general law, such as the right to seek bail, are not present within the NAB Ordinance, the superior courts have refrained from striking down the law altogether and have upheld the powers enjoyed by NAB, and particularly its Chairman.

The Chairman NAB enjoys the power to order the arrest of any accused that in his sole opinion is required for an investigation and appears to be uncooperative. Making active use of this power, the Chairman has time and again signed off on the arrest of various different politicians and other public office holders alike. Even private citizens involved with defrauding the public at large came within the ambit of NAB, and have been targeted by the sword of accountability. However, amendments to exclude private citizens from the purview of NAB are being made, and it is only a matter of time before the said amendments are effectively incorporated.

In the past few years, NAB has gained traction and appears to be more active than it first used to be. Politicians across the country remain on the hit list of NAB, and every now and then a sitting parliamentarian is detained by the Bureau on the pretext of an ongoing investigation or an inquiry.

What is the consequence of a wrong allegation made by NAB? There should be a deterrent present for the Bureau barring it to go on a witch hunt without cogent evidence. Those holding others accountable should also be held accountable for their own wrong decisions. After all these arrests have consequences for the public at large. The reputation of a public office holder is stamped by an unfounded allegation by NAB and even if the said public official is exonerated, no penalty is attributed to the NAB officials who embroiled the latter in the first place. Every action should indeed have an equal and opposite reaction

Currently, NAB is dealing with three sorts of scenarios. First, where its investigators go after a politician and actually end up achieving some success by establishing the guilt of the accused. Second, where they pick up a politician on totally immaterial charges and poorly investigated cases which result in the accused being bailed out by a High Court in exercise of its constitutional jurisdiction. Third, where although enough material is present to pursue but the Bureau is reluctant to proceed for reasons best known to itself. Probably such files are kept under the pile to be placed on top at a more convenient time.

Statistically, the number of cases falling within the second scenario appears to be the highest. Without conducting a thorough investigation and obtaining sufficient material to sustain a conviction or in some cases even to file a reference, the bureau proceeds to detain an accused only to cause misery to the latter for a period mostly stretching from 90-120 days, resulting in the accused being admitted to bail eventually.

The NAB prosecutors mostly end up embarrassing themselves in court as they fail to present substantial evidence in support of their tall claims. Evidently, most of the arrests made and the subsequent request for physical remands are not even justifiable, but somehow miraculously the Bureau is granted custody of the accused presented by them. Just this past week, during the course of PTI leader Sibtain Khan’s bail hearing, an honourable judge of the Lahore High Court inquired from the investigation officer as to why an inquiry, which had been shut down by NAB itself after concluding that no loss to the national exchequer had been caused therefore, no substantial material was present to even upgrade the inquiry to an investigation, was reopened by the Bureau in the absence of any new incriminating evidence. The investigation officer candidly submitted before the Court that he wasn’t the one who had reopened the inquiry and it was the high-ups who had made the decision. The NAB prosecutor didn’t have much to add except to concede that indeed no loss had been caused and no gain had been derived.

It turns out that a man had been kept incarcerated on the whims of the chairman NAB for no plausible reason and no case of even an attempt was made out against him. Despite being in custody for 100 days, sufficient material to file a reference against him has not been unearthed. Naturally the only logical conclusion that comes to mind is the balancing factor whereby every now and then a PTI leader is detained so as to dispel the notion of selective accountability.

Similarly, other politicians detained by NAB end up securing bail from the High Courts on similar grounds as the bureau fails to justify further detention. Apart from instilling the fear of a 100-day average detention, the Bureau has failed to achieve the purpose of its existence and the promulgation of the NAB Ordinance. The sort of accountability in play at the moment is nothing short of politicised targeting of politicians, tainting the repute of dozens.

Such actions give rise to some pertinent questions, the first being as to what is the consequence of a wrong allegation made by NAB? There should be a deterrent present for the Bureau barring it to go on a witch hunt without cogent evidence. Those holding others accountable should also be held accountable for their own wrong decisions. After all these arrests have consequences for the public at large. The reputation of a public office holder is stamped by an unfounded allegation by NAB and even if the said public official is exonerated, no penalty is attributed to the NAB officials who embroiled the latter in the first place. Every action should indeed have an equal and opposite reaction.