SC’s denunciation of NAB by Dawn Editorial

THOSE who run the National Accountability Bureau should hang their heads in shame — if they have any capacity for it. The anti-graft body has often been censured for its modus operandi but this time around, no less than the Supreme Court has excoriated its workings as being patently unlawful, unjust and in furtherance of a political agenda. Authored by Justice Maqbool Baqar, the 87-page judgement in the Paragon City case describes the matter as “a classic example of trampling of fundamental rights, unlawful deprivation of freedom, and liberty and the complete disregard for human dignity as guaranteed by the Constitution”. The two-judge bench had granted bail on March 17 to the accused, former railways minister and PML-N leader Khawaja Saad Rafique and his brother Khawaja Salman Rafique, overturning a rejection of their bail plea by the Lahore High Court on June 18 last year.

The court has perceived NAB’s conduct in this case as part of an unmistakable wider pattern that speaks to objectives far removed from any notion of accountability. The verdict notes the bureau’s reluctance to act against one side of the political divide even where huge financial scams are concerned, while “those on the other side are being arrested and incarcerated for months and years without providing any sufficient cause even when the law mandates investigations to be concluded expeditiously and trial to be concluded within 30 days”. How else can this be interpreted but as a witch-hunt, the very antithesis of accountability? Pursuing a political vendetta in this guise only erodes the people’s faith in governance, exacerbates political divides and brings the democratic process into disrepute. Indeed, when mechanisms of justice are manipulated into serving instead as instruments of persecution, it puts the very future of a country at stake.

The Supreme Court verdict reiterates that NAB’s actions violate the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, which is included in the UN charter of human rights. The bureau chairman’s powers to arbitrarily carry out arrests have proved a convenient stick with which to beat the opposition — and the odd recalcitrant journalist — with. Taking an individual into custody on allegations of corruption and keeping him there is a surefire way of destroying his reputation in the court of public opinion, even when evidence is flimsy or non-existent. The humiliation inflicted over the past few years by NAB on numerous bureaucrats who allegedly carried out illegal orders by ‘corrupt’ politicians, has rendered the bureaucracy virtually catatonic. A number of businessmen were also hauled up by NAB; that did not have a salutary effect on the investment climate in the country and the law was tweaked accordingly. Now that the Supreme Court has weighed in so unequivocally, the government must sit with the opposition and thrash out new accountability legislation, one that actually serves the ends of justice.

Published in Dawn, July 22nd, 2020

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