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July 26, 2020

Restructuring NAB

Opinion

July 26, 2020

The World Bank and the IMF define corruption as “the abuse of public office for private gains”. Dr Robert Klitgaard, the established guru of academic anti-corruption research, has a formula: “Corruption equals discretionary authority minus accountability”. Yes, “corruption is a major obstacle to economic development”. Yes, corruption “reduces domestic investment, discourages foreign direct investment, inflates government spending, and shifts government spending from education and health…..towards less efficient (more manipulable) public projects.”

The Government of Pakistan buys goods and services worth Rs7.5 trillion ($45 billion) a year, every year. Yes, the Government of Pakistan buys goods and services worth Rs250,000 a year every year on behalf of each and every Pakistani family. As a matter of fact, Pakistani public office holders have a lot of discretion – and there’s little accountability. As per Klitgaard’s formula the result would be corruption. Yes, corruption has been a major obstacle in our economic development. Yes, corruption has reduced domestic investment, discouraged foreign direct investment, inflated government spending and has shifted government spending from education and health towards more manipulable public projects.

White-collar crime is a “crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation”. The FIA is Pakistan’s premier agency for curbing financial crimes. FIA has a conviction rate of 6.6 percent. NAB is “Pakistan’s apex anti-corruption organisation…..charged with the responsibility of elimination of corruption.” NAB has a conviction rate of around 8.5 percent. Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has a conviction rate of 84 percent; the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) of Singapore 97 percent and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) 80 percent.

NAB should not be disbanded – Rs7.5 trillion of Pakistani taxpayers’ money is at stake. NAB must be restructured. To begin with, NAB has three missions: prevention, detection and punishment. NAB has completely failed on at least two counts – prevention and punishment. As far as the staff is concerned, there’s no specialized training, no skills, no integrity reviews and compensation is low. Then there are questions in the public mind over political interference into what NAB does or doesn't do – and how NAB is used to achieve political ends.

To be certain, NAB is going nowhere with its current staff quality. NAB needs to recruit intelligence technicians, financial records examination experts, training coordinators, cyber crime specialists, financial investigation experts, transaction pattern specialists, qualitative data experts, forensic accountants, researchers, white-collar crime prosecutors and enforcement analysts. Currently, NAB is trying to investigate multi-billion rupee white-collar crime with blue-collar staff. This approach has been a complete failure.

NAB’s impartiality and credibility are both very low in the public eye. Research within NAB is non-existent. NAB must establish at least three performance indicators – conviction rate, efficiency indicators and productivity indicators. To be certain, for an anti-corruption entity, the conviction rate is considered to be the primary performance indicator. And NAB’s conviction rate is one of the lowest in the world.

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @saleemfarrukh