Opposition Leader and Chairman PAC Shahbaz Sharif criticised the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for being “tough on politicians and lenient with others”. The Committee also sought details of the status of 168 pending cases from the NAB which was sent to the bureau by the committee in the last 10 years by Tuesday.

These comments were not out of the blue considering the nature of the work carried out by PAC. PAC is responsible for overseeing budgetary control- it scrutinises the funds allocated by the government, makes suggestions to the government on how to improve procedures and studies public audits. In this line of work, PAC leaders have the authority to invite ministry officials to the committee for questioning; the criticism directed towards NAB by PAC, while a bit political, is not wholly out of line considering the Committee’s link to accountability.

What made the briefing come dangerously close to violating professional conduct was not the questioning of NAB, but rather who was doing it. PAC Chairman Shahbaz Sharif is currently under custody of NAB for investigation in the Rs14 billion Ashiana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme case. Thus, Shahbaz’s directing NAB, in his position as PAC Chairman, to provide more details on pending cases and criticising it for being selective in its justice, makes a strong case for a possible conflict of interest on Shahbaz’s side- it is difficult to see how the younger Sharif brother can take unbiased decisions with NAB when he has a bone to pick with the Bureau. Indeed, the whole procedure of the PAC meetings are iffy, considering there is a petition in the Islamabad High Court seeking to disqualify Sharif as PAC Chairman on the basis of a conflict of interest.

This is not a black and white case- it must be remembered that Sharif has not been convicted or found guilty of any charge. He has only been taken under custody by NAB for investigation, a practice some would castigate as being political and unfair considering nothing concrete has been brought against the PML-N leader so far. Chairman of PAC is a powerful position which has traditionally been held by the Opposition Leader- it would be unfair to exclude Sharif just because of a mere investigation.

Thus it is a delicate situation, which should be handled carefully. PAC has to strike the middle ground- it needs to support more parliamentary oversight of NAB, but perhaps it would be advisable for Sharif to take a backseat when it comes to that particular function of PAC.