Parliamentary Affairs Minister Babar Awan had tabled `the Holder of Public Office (Accountability) Act, 2009,` in the National Assembly on 15th April 2009.
It could not go through because the opposition parties raised many objections on it and demanded about fifty amendments in it. Then an exercise of recasting the said bill in the name of National Accountability Commission [NAC] started; dozens of meetings of the Parliamentary Committee held, tens of mutual discussions amongst the PPP & PML(N) members took place during the last four years but of no avail.
Till the end of their governments on 16th March 2013, the proposed improvements in NAB or its controlling NAO changed many shapes and faces. In November 2012 at last, the PPP government made a serious try to bring forward the National Accountability Commission Bill (NACB) of 2012 but timely shouts of one Anusha Rehman saved the nation from a ‘calculated legal disaster’ in the history of Pakistan.
To transform NAB into the National Accountability Commission (NAC), the proposed Bill was [mildly; may be off the record now] tabled in the National Assembly to seek a simple majority vote to make it an Act. The salient features, as noted by a freelance columnist Qaisar Rashid [firstname.lastname@example.org], were:
- It laid down a broad consultation mechanism to seek the consent of the leader of the opposition to nominate the Chairman of the NAC.
- Consultation with the Chief Justice of the High Court concerned to nominate a judge for the accountability court.
- It made the provision mandatory that the chairman NAC should be a retired judge of the Supreme Court (SC) or a grade-22 federal government officer.
- Both judges and army Generals would also be held accountable for their misdeeds.
- A National Accountability Investigation Agency (NAIA) would be formed to investigate any alleged affair.
- Once appointed, the chairman of the NAC would stay in the office till completion of his four-year tenure.
- The powers of the chairman to seek mutual legal assistance, where the jurisdiction would be foreign, would be reduced. The question: Why did the PPP government wanted the scope of mutual legal assistance reduced unilaterally? Why should those Pakistanis who siphoned off the wealth of this country and escaped abroad not be apprehended and the booty recovered?
The powers of the chairman to procure banking information about an alleged person would be made subject to prior permission granted by a court. The question: Why should the chairman not be independent to procure any banking information without letting the accused know that an investigation was being carried out against him? Why was it important to put in place a mechanism to alert an accused person so that he could shift his money through telephone or internet banking?
The scope of the NAC would be limited only to public office holders (politicians or government servants) while the people falling under the definition of ‘other persons’ would be spared. The question: how many front men used by the corrupt public office holders would also be termed pubic office holders? What would be the mechanism for apprehending the front men to unearth the trail leading to the actual face indulging in corruption?
- The powers of the investigation agency (NAIA) would be short of arresting a public office holder if he cooperated with the NAIA even if there was available solid evidence of corruption against him. The question: Good messages – indulge in corruption but cooperate with the NAIA to avoid arrest if the scam was exposed; in the meantime, flee from the country, save your skin and enjoy the fruits of the booty. Do corruption but be careful to give any clue; you are free to plunder but if caught unluckily then cooperate.
- The accountability courts of the NAC would not punish a culprit for more than seven years imprisonment (instead of 14 years) in case corruption was proved against him but the looted money not recovered. The question: In such a scenario, should the duration of punishment be decreased or increased? For such a hardened criminal, why not the limit be extended to 20 years?
The accountability courts of the NAC would not punish a culprit at all in case corruption was proved against him but he returned the looted money before the judgement of the court or his plea bargain was accepted by the NAC. The question: Why should there be a soft corner for a proven corrupt public office holder; this clause was an encouragement for plundering process in fact.
- Any act of corruption would be condoned if done ‘in good faith’. The question: who will define the clause and at which stage that faith would be disclosed.
- The ‘benami’ accounts and property of a culprit would not fall in the ambit of the NAC. Very cogent message: you will be a fool of the first order if you would keep the looted money or property in your own name.
The above said points especially in an arena of reduction in powers of the chairman to seek mutual foreign legal assistance and reduction in the scope of the NAC only to bureaucrats and politicians would hardly help Pakistanis in reducing corruption. Unless the corrupt people’s bank accounts would be checked without alerting him; including all members of the society like parliamentarians, ministers, judges and army officers from Brigadier ranks and above in the net; why should any wrongdoer chiselling out money from the poorest or governments on one pretext or another get off scot-free?
The questions; why should the cooperation of a corrupt public office holder be a guarantee against his arrest? Why should not he fall from grace if he was corrupt? Why should the arrest not act as a deterrent against corruption? Had such immunities offered to a corrupt public office holder, then no need of having any anti-corruption body?
In nut shell, the PPP government wanted to encourage and institutionalize corruption at all levels of the government under the protection of the said National Accountability Commission. The high class elite were being given an LCP [License to Corrupt Practices].
Even then if a bureaucrat or politician would not do corruption [in the light of above provisions of law] he should straightaway be disqualified to hold an office or be sent to a mental hospital.
Were the courts ready to take cognizance of such loot & plunder?