News Analysis |
Pakistan’s anti-graft body, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), has decided to probe into the alleged 14 billion rupees corruption in the award of contract of Karachi-Lahore Motorway’s Abdul Hameed section (230km). The decision was made by the NAB chief Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal during a meeting on Tuesday. NAB started this investigation last month and had summoned the former chairman of National Highway Authority (NHA) Shahid Ashraf Tarar and contractors of the project.
The inquiry was started after a complaint by the Transparency International (TI) and some evidence collected by the NAB authorities. The charges are that NHA authorities awarded the contract in violation of the laid down rules/laws against exorbitant rates while awarding contracts and causing a loss of billions of rupees to the national exchequer. The complaint was lodged two years ago by TI but the former chairman of NAB Qamar Zaman Chaudhry didn’t take up the matter.
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The issue was that the contract was awarded for Rs. 148 billion but the contractor had reduced the amount of work and quantities up to Rs. 10 billion but it was not taken into account in the contract. The Frontier Works’ Organization (FWO) had also filed a bid for the project for Rs. 134 billion, 14 billion less than the amount for which the project was contracted, but NHA didn’t award the bid to FWO, stating that they already had enough projects in their hands and they were overburdened. The contract was awarded in August 2015.
NAB has seen a revival under the leadership of their new chairman Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal who took oath on 10th October 2017. They have since initiated a probe against a great number of graft cases and also reopened old cases to clear their backlog. NAB had long been criticized for turning a blind eye to the political and bureaucratic high-ups and for its sluggish pace in probing corruption cases. They had also been accused of being a tool of politicians to settle scores against their political rivals.
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They have opened graft cases against politicians of all parties and institutes without prejudice. The most prominent among these are the corruption cases against former premier Nawaz Sharif and his family in the Panama Papers case, probe against PPP leader Sharjeel Memon, probe against PTI leader Aleem Khan, corruption investigation against former LDA Chief Ahad Cheema and inquiry against four former senior military officers. The universal accountability by NAB has been lauded by all media and civil society circles. This is the first time in the history of NAB and Pakistan that all leaders of all parties have been held equally accountable.
Political experts believe that probe against the motorway project corruption and corruption in the Ashiana Housing society falsify former premiers Nawaz Sharif’s claims that not a single corruption case surfaced during his tenure. Ever since his disqualification by the Supreme Court in the 28th July Panama Paper’s verdict, he has adopted an anti-judiciary rhetoric, accusing them of disqualifying him over not taking a salary from his son. The great number of graft cases emerging from his tenure period suggests that his era was not as corruption free as he believes.
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The question to be asked is that whether these graft cases will reach their logical conclusion or not? And is it a policy change on NAB’s end or merely Javed Iqbal’s charismatic leadership? There are also speculations that political parties might design new legislation to curb the powers of NAB for protecting their leaders. There have been previous attempts in the past to terminate NAB and bring the National Accountability Commission (NAC) in its stead but the efforts were defeated. It would not be farfetched to assume that similar attempts can be made in the future or changes will be made in the structure of NAB to inhibit its powers of accountability.