Why NAB should be disbanded and replaced by an anti-corruption bench of the SC
There is much talk of disqualifying the Panama accused to prevent them from running for public office again. Disqualification alone will be against the principles of natural justice. Simply disqualifying the accused will send the wrong message to other corrupt politicians who have enriched themselves over the past few years. The court (in addition to sentencing the accused as per law), should also seize all their properties and assets, freeze their bank accounts, confiscate their vehicles and put their names on the Exit Control List (ECL).
And it should not simply end with the conviction and disqualification of those who are on trial today. There are many like them who have looted the country and enriched themselves while in positions of power. The nation knows well who they are; they are those who have built palatial mansions for themselves and who enjoy lavish lifestyles. They should simply be asked to explain how they are able to spend so much, and what the source of their income is. If they are not able to explain to the court that their properties have been earned legally, they should be convicted, and all their assets seized immediately.
Again, the process should not simply end with politicians. The bureaucrats and civil servants who helped those politicians in their illegal activities should also be investigated. If they are found living beyond their means, and if they have assets which are disproportionately large in comparison to their incomes, they too should be convicted and their properties seized.
As for the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), it should be disbanded immediately and replaced by a permanent anti-corruption bench of the Supreme Court (SC). Mushtaq Raisani, an officer of the Balochistan government, was set free by NAB after surrendering only two billion rupees worth of cash, jewellery and property, even though he was widely suspected of owning hidden assets amounting to Rs40 billion. He would definitely have surrendered all his assets in exchange for freedom if he had known that he would be sentenced to imprisonment for many years.
Of course, the first case to be taken up (after the decision on Nawaz Sharif and his family) should be that of the former president, Asif Ali Zardari. Even though this man had been convicted of money laundering by a Swiss court, no action could be taken against him due to claims of immunity. Now he is living in luxury, more than a Mughul king could have dreamed of. He should be asked about how he is able to live in a palace in Dubai, besides having mansions in France and the UK, how he is able to pay for the maintenance of these houses, and the money trail leading to their purchase. A swift enquiry followed by the seizure of his huge assets in Pakistan (which include many sugar mills, agricultural land and 40 bungalows adjacent to the Bilawal House) will put the fear of God in those who are planning to loot the country.
Then there was the case of the former naval chief Mansurul Haq who was released after a plea bargain. We must not forget the scandal-ridden government of Zardari, when there were allegations of corruption against Fauzia Gilani, the wife of former Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani. Then, there was Raja Pervaiz Ashraf (popularly known as Raja Rental) who was involved in the scam of renting floating power plants at exorbitant rates. Moreover, the Hajj scandal is still fresh in our minds, with the principal accused being acquitted for a lack of evidence. But who can be asked to provide the source of funding for his investments, properties and other assets?
In fact, even though NAB was aware of the corruption of the ruling family and other politicians, it closed 129 cases against politicians in the past three years (undoubtedly under political pressure). We need a radical change in dealing with corruption, which causes the country a daily loss of $133 million! Just by reducing corruption to half its present rate, we can wipe out our foreign debt of 75 billion dollars in only four years.
There is no need to form judicial investigation teams for this process. If they have been honest and if their assets have been obtained legally, they should have no difficulty in proving so. But knowing how arrogant our feudal lords are, as they have always assumed that they can go on looting and plundering the nation with impunity, they are likely to have no evidence that their properties have been purchased with legal income (just as Nawaz was unable to do so). It’s time to make them accountable. They should understand that the laws of the country also apply to them, not merely to common Pakistanis, whose taxes they have pilfered and deposited in their foreign bank accounts.
The nation will forever be grateful to the SC if this process is taken to its logical end and those who are corrupt are punished severely.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.