Instead of presenting a break-up of recoveries to the tune of Rs821 billion, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) should have presented a performance sheet before the general public showing the decrease in the level of corruption since the bureau came into being back in 1999. In fact, Pakistan has slipped by four points on the international Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) and stands at 124th position in comparison to 120th position in 2019. NAB was not created with a sole responsibility to act as a recovery agent from fraudulent and corrupt persons or strike bargain deals. No doubt, the recovery of looted money is also an uphill task and the imposition of hefty fines can act as a deterrent against corruption. But overall, the corruption level is not decreasing, and that puts a question mark on the validity of NAB and its billions of rupees recoveries.
Discussions of double standards and political opportunism aside, the NAB episode has once again brought the topic of accountability to the forefront. The entire concept of accountability is tainted by a history of political targeting and score setting. Furthermore, the scope of accountability is limited only to politicians – for ‘accountability’ to be authentic it should encompass politicians, bureaucrats, judges and generals equally. The last three (in increasing order) mostly always escape any scrutiny and it is only the politicians who are caricatured and targeted for being corrupt, which is a prevalent narrative harmful to the prospects of democracy. And it is patently apparent that the manner in which NAB conducts itself is not consistent with criminal investigation ethics and rules of procedure. Nonetheless, accepting this historical reality does not remove the problems inherent in having the executive branch exercising total control over a watchdog organisation. To solve this quandary, it is imperative to have a parliamentary committee overseeing NAB’s affairs. This will go a long way in reducing the partisan nature of NAB and help reduce the perception that accountability drives are fundamentally politically motivated. Real accountability can be achieved through an impartial action against all those who are found involved in corrupt practices without any discrimination.