Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Daily Times Editorial July 9, 2015

NAB list In response to the criticism by the Supreme Court (SC) hearing a petition against the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman and other officials to scrutinise the workings of the anti-corruption watchdog, NAB has filed a list of cases against 150 influential people, including political leaders, bureaucrats and businessmen. The list reads like a who’s who of these three categories of the country’s rich and high and mighty. The politicians named include the Sharifs, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, former president Asif Zardari, former prime ministers Yousaf Raza Gilani, Raja Pervez Ashraf and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, former chief minister Balochistan Nawab Aslam Raisani, former interior minister Aftab Sherpao, former information minister Firdaus Ashiq Awan, former information secretary and ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani, and former top bureaucrats and prominent industrialists. The cases relate to monetary irregularities (and embezzlement), misuse and abuse of powers and land scandals. The list is neatly divided into 50 cases in each of the above three categories, which itself suggests the list is not a complete one but ‘doctored’ to show NAB in a good light. A breakdown or progress report has also been presented, showing that of the 50 monetary irregularity cases, inquiries are being conducted in 22 cases, investigations launched into 13, and references filed in 15 cases. Amongst land scandals, inquiries are in progress in 29 cases, investigations in 13, while references have been filed in eight cases. Under misuse of power, inquiries are underway in 20 cases, investigations continue in 15, and references have been filed in 15 cases. Amongst the prominent (and startling) cases cited, a reference dating to April 2000 charges the Sharifs with having misused Rs 126 million of public money to build a road from Raiwind to their farmhouse. Another reference from 1999 charges Nawaz Sharif with having appointed his favourites to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). Ishaq Dar is on the NAB radar for possessing assets beyond his known sources of income, including three holdings of Pounds 23 million, $ 3,488 million and $ 1,250 million. Asif Zardari is similarly charged with wealth of Rs 170 billion beyond his known sources of income and with corruption cases involving $ 22 billion and $ 1.5 billion. Chaudhry Shujaat too is in the dock for possessing assets worth Rs 2,428 billion, beyond his known sources of income. Yousaf Raza Gilani is accused of misuse of authority in appointments in the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA), while Raja Pervez Ashraf stands indicted in the rental power plants case. Raisani too is charged with possessing Rs 100 million in assets, beyond his known sources of income, and with misusing his powers as chief minister. Firdaus Awan is in the dock for misuse of power/authority, as is Sherpao, who also is charged with possessing assets beyond his means. Husain Haqqani is in the shadows for funds embezzlement, of which the exact amount is not known even to NAB, and issuing illegal licences to three FM radio stations. Former top bureaucrats and businessmen too stand in the NAB spotlight for corruption and abuse of authority. Reports say the total amount involved in these 150 cases is to the tune of Rs 428.3 billion. While the NAB report may make for good bedtime reading, it failed to amuse the court since none of the cases cited revealed when the reference was filed, when verified, etc. Rejecting the report, the SC asked NAB to provide two columns setting out this information. The court has seen through the charade played by NAB. The burning question is, some if not all of the cited cases date back years. None of the people named are unknown. They have been around for as long as one can remember (with some politicians like the Sharifs having had to take a forced foreign ‘sabbatical’ for reasons beyond their control). Some have been in and out of power many times since NAB instituted these cases. Where then has NAB been all this time? The standard defence of politicians involved in such cases is that they are politically motivated, as proved by the fact that even after the passage of so many years, no prominent politician has ever been convicted. Accountability as a national endeavour has suffered a loss of credibility precisely because of such factors. When NAB is unable to prove a case in court despite the passage of years, the politicians’ defence assumes near verity. The current focus on NAB and corruption in the body politic is believed by some to be driven by the military establishment, keen to clean up the Augean stables of corruption and embezzlement of public resources, some of which are allegedly finding their way to criminal and terrorist gangs (e.g. in Karachi). Whether further details presented by NAB to the SC will restore the dented credibility of the anti-corruption regime remains a moot point and loaded with political undercurrents and ramifications.

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