The federal government has decided to file cases of misappropriation of billions of rupees development funds in Sindh. Cases would reportedly be filed against project directors, director generals of the relevant development authorities, engineers, consulting companies and project resident engineers by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). Consequently, a lot of bureaucrats serving in Sindh, particularly those that are perceived to be involved in massive corruption, have either proceeded on leave or obtained pre-emptive bail before arrest or have slipped out of the country. Those among us who may view this as a highly partisan witch-hunt need reminding that the decision to refer several cases of corruption and misappropriation of funds to NAB was actually taken by the relevant Senate Standing Committee with representation from the Pakistan People’s Party as well.
NAB’s performance has remained a subject of considerable criticism since its establishment and its recent cases leave little doubt that case selections and pace of investigations of individual cases remain heavily influenced by the federal government. Little has happened during the past two years to change this widespread perception as investigations remain stalled not only with respect to decade-old cases against the Sharif family members, including with respect to the Asghar Khan case, but also in cases implicating former President Asif Ali Zardari as well as other senior members of the two parties. In short, there is a widespread perception that NAB continues to be used by the ruling elite to not only protect its own stalwarts from prosecution but also as a means to exercise leverage against political adversaries or to keep political allies in line.
Given this background sceptics maintain that the recent decision by the Senate Standing Committee may be a way to give a clean chit to the ruling political party in Sindh which has been accused of considerable corruption and abuse of funds in several federally-funded projects. However, giving the benefit of doubt with respect to the objective of the Senate Standing Committee members it is relevant to note that a decision such as this must not be specific to one province but must include all and as a matter of routine. Or, in other words, such a direction should not have come from the Senate committee but should have been automatically under review by NAB. Evaluations of projects are undertaken after their completion; however, most are rather shoddily carried out, in some cases by those with influence and in other cases because of poor capacity of the evaluating staff. There is thus a need to not only make evaluators independent but also build up capacity.
The office of the Auditor General of Pakistan is, as per its website, “the prime institution in the country for ensuring public accountability and fiscal transparency in governmental operations. The organisation is expected to bring about improvements in the financial discipline and internal control environment in the executive departments for minimising the possibility of waste and fraud.” The AGP is a constitutional post and “his reports are laid before the National, provincial, and district assemblies and are considered in the Public Accounts Committee of the respective assemblies. His mandate enables him to strengthen the legislative oversight by providing an independent and objective assessment of the process of governance both at the federal and provincial levels”. In other words, to ensure that the AGP performs his duties impartially and to ensure that his terms of reference namely to provide transparency is fully met the AGP must be carefully selected and have no political bias. Rana Asad Amin, former Advisor to the Finance Division and a close associate of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, was recently appointed as the AGP, raising serious concerns. However, even if Rana Asad Amin does perform his duties in an exemplary fashion, as have some of his predecessors, the country’s national and provincial assemblies have shown a marked disregard for the report findings that should have raised red flags.
Fortunately, Pakistan has all the necessary watchdog offices in place (NAB and AGP) to deal with misappropriation of government funds but unfortunately their functioning remains compromised because of nepotism in appointments.