Reform NAB now

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Once again, there has been some brouhaha over the tactics of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). While opposition politicians have singularly been at the receiving end of NAB’s activities, government officials have also now pointed fingers at what they believe is questionable timing of NAB probes, specifically those involving the use of a Khyber Pukhtunkhwa government helicopter by PTI chairman Imran Khan during the previous five-year term when he was just a member of the National Assembly. Another case involving Punjab’s senior minister Aleem Khan has remained pending an inquiry with the accountability watchdog, and Khan, in a recent interview, raised question marks over NAB’s timings, saying that he was summoned for questioning only after he got elected to the Punjab Assembly last year and not before or afterwards.
NAB chairperson Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal has also joined the chorus of voices, defending the institution and saying that it would go about its accountability drive regardless of the official rank of the person involved.
The fact of the matter is that NAB has a dubious track record, and its investigations are widely known to be witch-hunts of sorts, mostly targeting politicians, and those that may have fallen out of favours with the powers that be. Politicians have time and again accused it of this, and pointed to the obvious lack of action against personnel associated with unelected state institutions.
There are structural flaws in the day-to-day operations of the body, without the nature of its responsibilities. For starters, such an overarching accountability watchdog has to be completely under the oversight of the Parliament.
Secondly, the ad-hocism associated with its day to day operations needs be dealt away with. The Bureau cannot expect the public to trust it unless it institutionalises its investigations, meaning that there must be a specific timeline for the start and end of probes. Thirdly, the secrecy surrounding NAB probes cannot be acceptable. The Bureau cannot be allowed to begin inquiries into anyone on anonymous complaints. In cases where the identity of a complainant has to be protected, an in-camera session of a relevant parliamentary committee must be taken into confidence.