An efficient accountability regime always plays a pivotal role in effectively curbing the menace of corruption in any country. This is the reason presently many states in the world are actively endeavouring to devise and introduce some effective tools of accountability to adequately tackle the issue of corruption. An efficient accountability regime essentially comprises two complimentary components; a set of stringent anti-graft laws, and some independent agencies to strictly enforce these laws. No accountability regime devoid of these components is capable of delivering anything exceptional.

‘Hamlet’ is one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies. In this play, pointing out the rampant corruption in the kingdom, Marcellus says to Horatio, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”. However, the fact of the matter is that today’s Denmark is no longer as it was during that historical epoch. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2015, Denmark is the most transparent and least corrupt country in the world. Obviously Denmark has achieved this distinguished status in the world through the rule of law, an efficient judicial system and an effective accountability regime. The institution of the Danish Parliamentary Ombudsman has played an important role in ensuring accountability and fair play in Denmark. It is responsible for inspecting all aspects of public governance by acting as a watchdog and whistle-blower. Certainly, this accountability model should also be followed by other developing countries like Pakistan.

Though Shakespeare is no more, there are many international bodies to tell us about the ‘rotten things’ in Pakistan. It was indeed an embarrassing moment for the entire nation when Transparency International rated Pakistan as the second most corrupt country in the world in 1996. Pakistan is still considered among the most corrupt countries in the world. Observably, corruption has deeply penetrated the body politic. However, despite pervasive and rampant corruption in the country, we have hardly observed the required degree of resolution and commitment on the part of government to effetely curb this menace. Consequently, we have failed to evolve any comprehensive counter-corruption strategy so far.

In fact, Panamagate has exposed the miserable, and rather pitiable, state of our accountability institutions. Despite a number of startling revelations made by the Panama Papers against hundreds of Pakistanis, no state institution has yet bothered to seriously looking into this matter. In fact, the word ‘accountability’ has been one of the most popular political slogans in Pakistan since its inception. However, most of the accountability drives in the country have more been the typical witch-hunting exercises – victimising one’s political opponents for obvious reasons. Therefore, in the absence of political will and required resolution on the part of their formulators, all the accountability regimes in the country – 1949’s Public Representative Offices Disqualification Act (PRODA), 1959’s Public Offices Disqualification Order (PODO) and Elective Bodies Disqualification Order (EDBO), 1997’s Ehtesab Act, and 1999’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Ordinance- badly failed to evolve into vibrant accountability institutions in Pakistan.

General (r) Pervez Musharraf announced his so-called seven-point agenda soon after coming to power in 1999. Ensuring swift and across-the-board accountability in Pakistan was an essential part of this agenda. For this purpose, replacing the Ehtesab Act, 1997, he readily promulgated his much-trumpeted NAB Ordinance, 1999 in the country. However, this law too – like its predecessor – failed to effectively curb corruption. Political pragmatism and expediency instantly overshadowed his entire accountability drive as soon as he decided to promulgate the notorious the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) in 2007. His policy of political reconciliation was also equally pursued by all succeeding political regimes in the country afterwards.

Section 25 of the NAB Ordinance, 1999 contains the ‘Plea Bargain’ and ‘Voluntary Return’ provisions. These provisions empowers the chairman NAB to release, before or after the commencement of trial, any person accused of any offence under this ordinance if he returns the assets or gains acquired through corruption or corrupt practices. At the same time, under section 10 of this ordinance, a person who commits the offence of corruption can also be punished with imprisonment up to 14 years, with or without fine. However, it has now become general practice with NAB that once any person accused of corruption returns a portion of ill-gotten money under a plea bargain, he is hardly punished by an accountability court. Now, in practice, NAB has now somehow become more an assets recovery agency than an accountability body.

As matter of fact, the Plea Bargain clause in the NAB Ordinance is in conflict with the recognised principles of criminal jurisprudence in the country. Under the law of the land, certain so-called offences against property like theft, extortion, robbery etc are necessarily non-compoundable – i.e. an offence for which a victim or a court is not allowed to make any compromises with the perpetrator. Similarly, a plea of guilty always goes against the accused. This plea is generally considered strong evidence against an accused person, and often leads to his/her conviction. On the other hand, a person accused of corruption can easily manage to go unpunished under the plea bargain clause of the NAB Ordinance. It is quite ironic that a person who commits a theft of a few thousand rupees cannot escape punishment but a person who plunders national wealth can go scot-free.

In 2014, the then chairman NAB revealed the startling figure of daily corruption in Pakistan which just hovered around Rs12 billion. In this way, the annual figure touches Rs4000 billion to Rs5000 billion. An additional prosecutor general of NAB has submitted a report to the Supreme Court of Pakistan claiming to have recovered Rs263 billion over 15 years. This figure of Rs263 billion also includes the Rs181 billion that have been recovered from loan defaulters only. Therefore, the net amount recovered from those involved in corrupt practices is around Rs82 billion which is by no means an impressive figure. Indeed, there can be no joke bigger than that what has been played on this disillusioned nation in the name of accountability. It is also quite unfortunate that the premier anti-graft body, which is supposed to launch a rigorous accountability drive in country, has confined itself to recovering outstanding loans and utility dues from people.

Recently, in order to make people aware about the ill effects of corruption, the NAB has also started an ‘Awareness and Prevention’ campaign through its message: Say no to corruption. For this purpose, the NAB is set to launch an extensive media campaign in collaboration with civil society, various governmental and non-governmental organisations. Now, the NAB is also actively striving to propagate its message through text books, text messages, newspapers, utility bills, cigarette packets, Banks’ ATM’s etc. in the country. Thus the premier accountability body in Pakistan has been reduced to a public campaign organisation. In fact, almost a similar message carried by the currency notes in Pakistan for a long time has already fallen flat on the die-hard nation.

According to a report recently submitted by the NAB in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the premier accountability body has recovered Rs 2 billion from some 1584 civil servants under plea Bargain and Voluntary Returns provisions. Most of these civil servants have been allowed to retain their jobs after returning the plundered money. Indeed, this is a shameful act. Recently, expressing its dissatisfaction over the poor performance of NAB, the apex court has also restrained the Chairman NAB from exercising the provisions of Plea Bargain and Voluntary Return under Section 25 of the NAB Ordinance.

At present, the accountability regime in the country has badly failed to effectively tackle the monstrous corruption. Had we evolved an efficient accountability regime in Pakistan, the apex court would haven’t performed the function of an investigative agency by probing the Panamagate scandal. Observably both the NAB and NAB Ordnance have somehow become quite redundant. Now we direly need to introduce a new accountability regime in Pakistan by enacting some effective anti-graft laws and establishing some efficient accountability bodies.