Rolling the ball in the right direction

Courtesy: Malik Muhammad Ashraf

According to press reports, a former Ins­p­ector General Police of Khyber Pakhtunkhawa Malik Naveed who is under custody of NAB and being investigated for filching Rs.1.8 billion in the purchase of weapons for the provincial police, has offered to return Rs.80 million as a plea bargain to secure his release.
According to NAB sources the agency has recovered Rs253.712 billion in cases related to Bank default, rescheduling and restructuring of banks, court fines and amounts voluntarily surrendered by the accused, including US$1.5 billion from the corrupt bureaucrats and politicians under the plea bargain, since its inception. On the face of it the NAB seems to have done a wonderful job in retrieving the national wealth purloined by the unscrupulous bureaucrats and politicians.

But these figures do not reflect the down side of the NAB operations. Under the plea bargain if the NAB has recovered US$1.5 billion, it has also provided the culprits a legal escape route to have a bigger chunk of the cake and eat it too. A close look at the plea bargain cases reveals that in most of these instances the accused have invariably surrendered only small amounts of the embezzled money to secure their freedom; meaning thereby that probably three to four times of the money recovered under plea bargain has been turned into white money for the corrupt elements to enjoy for the rest of their lives; a colossal loss to the national exchequer.  Another very sordid aspect of this arrangement is that instead of curbing corruption it is actually encouraging corruption. The corrupt elements now feel more assured in continuing their detestable activities in the hope that they will never be prosecuted, incarcerated or punished for their crimes against the state.
Any anti-corruption law must not only be effective enough to hold the corrupt bureaucrats and politicians accountable for their committed acts of corruption but should also act as a deterrent for the aspiring functionaries to loot and plunder the national wealth. NAB is a much improved anti-corruption set up as compared to the previous arrangements made by different governments which were mostly designed to victimize the political opponents. However there is a need to revisit the clause of the NAB Ordinance regarding plea bargain. If a person is found guilty of embezzlement or fraud he should be made to surrender the entire amount whisked away by him and the only bargaining if at all necessary, should be on the reprieve in the prescribed punishment for the crime involved.  This will surely discourage people to indulge in corruption considering it a futile exercise not worth the humiliation that they would have to face if they were nabbed. There is actually a need to have a close scrutiny of the whole Ordinance to remove other lacunas to make sure that it meets the dual purpose of holding the corrupt accountable for their deeds as well as act as a strong deterrent against future corruption. Thanks to the Judiciary which through its proactive role has made sure that all cases of high profile corruption are vigorously pursued and the culprits brought to book, NAB at present is contemplating to pursue 300 high profile cases of corruption including 52 top politicians which are pending with the bureau for the last many years. To get the desired results it is imperative to maintain the neutrality and independence of NAB as well as freeing it of the purview of politics. There are no two opinions about the fact corruption has been the bane of social and economic progress in Pakistan.
The military and political rulers have indulged in reckless corruption with the help of bureaucracy. The bureaucracy taking advantage of unethical and illegal practices of the rulers, made possible by the systemic inadequacies, has also been extracting undue advantages from the rulers as a reward for their connivance in serving their vested interests. A former Chairman of NAB is on record to have told the SC that Rs.7-8 billion rupees were being gobbled up by corrupt elements on daily basis. That really is quite worrying for a developing country like Pakistan which is in dire need of resources to steady the lurching ship of its economy. Corruption is now spread into the entire society like a cancer and become an accepted social norm. The responsibility of this phenomenon clearly and squarely lies on the rulers and bureaucracy. Corruption trickles down from the top to the bottom and destroys the entire social fiber. Saadi Sherazi says “if a ruler eats up an egg through corrupt means, the masses would eat up the entire flock of hen in the same way” What it means is that to prevent corruption from becoming a social norm or to curb it , the rulers would themselves have to act honestly and with sincerity of purpose to set examples for the people to emulate. Having said that I still believe that all is not lost yet as there is a growing realization and concern among the present rulers to tame the genie of corruption. The PML (N) government has shown discernible commitment in this regard by taking some positive initiatives. The major cause of corruption among bureaucrats and politicians are the discretionary powers and finances that they have at their disposal to perpetuate the culture of graft and entitlement. The government has decided to discontinue the practice of putting secret and discretionary funds at the disposal of the Prime Minister, Ministers, ministries and other government organizations which allegedly were misused. The measure would accrue a saving of Rs.40 billion to the national exchequer.
There is also a well determined move to use the modern technologies to eliminate avenues of corruption, like computerization of land records in Punjab to end the Patwari culture. The government is also keen and supportive of NAB initiative to pursue the pending cases. A verifiable transparent mechanism has also been evolved to appoint heads of corporations and commercial organizations. The efforts of the government have certainly made a difference. For the first time, Pakistan, which has invariably enjoyed the dubious distinction of being among the top most corrupt nations, as reflected in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) issued by the Transparency International, has experienced a drop in corruption by ten points testifying the efficacy of the steps taken by the government during the last six months. Corruption undoubtedly cannot be eliminated in a short span of time or at one go. The most important thing is that the ball has been set rolling in the right direction