In a deeply controversial move termed as another NRO, the federal government has introduced the NAB Ordinance 2019 promulgated through a presidential ordinance clipping the wings of the anti-corruption watchdog, rendering it completely toothless and virtually ineffective.
According to the new ordinance, NAB can only take up cases of corruption or financial embezzlement worth more than Rs500 million. If an individual is involved in corrupt practices lesser than the amount then he will be dealt by the tax authorities or the courts. NAB can no longer get a suspect’s custody for 90 days as the period has been reduced to just 14, and must release him if the investigation is not carried forward.
Some other amendments that have defanged the bureau include abolishing the role of NAB chairman in appointing a prosecutor-general, prohibiting public statements on stages of inquiry, and the burden of proof now rests with the prosecution rather than the suspect. NAB is also bound to complete an inquiry within six months and cannot reopen an investigation once closed.
It was rather unexpected that Prime Minister Imran Khan who claims to have launched an accountability drive will curtail the powers of the NAB just to appease the bureaucracy and business community. He stated that bureaucrats, businessmen, and industrialists have suffered a lot due to NAB’s actions with the result that some were even reluctant to sign files and make investments or take new initiatives.
NAB has a checkered past being used for political victimization but the government has instead shielded the business community from scrutiny. NAB should be emboldened by scrapping laws such as the plea bargain. Instead, the prime minister thinks NAB has become a hurdle in the way of the business community and should only deal with public officers. If a politician is involved in corrupt practices, then bureaucrats are equally complicit and several agencies cannot deal with a single case.
NAB can no longer confiscate a suspect’s property without approval of a scrutiny committee comprising bureaucrats. More surprisingly, there will no action if a property is not directly or indirectly related to a public officer, and if the suspect has not monetarily benefited from gaining an asset beyond his means of income. NAB is also required to submit a quarterly performance report to the federal government.
These amendments clearly state that NAB is now subservient to the state and not an independent organisation. The government claims that NAB has become a parallel system inquiring matters beyond its domain. This may increase the role of other agencies such as FIA, FBR and SECP. The business community will now take a sigh of relief that the once feared NAB will no longer target them.