If Mushtaq Raisani amazed the world with the amount of money he stole, the National Accountability Bureau has astonished the world by letting off biggest thieves in the name of plea bargain.
That weird backdoor for the culprits to escape has once again been opened wide. When people expected the culprit to go behind bars till the end of time he has been “fully cleared” in return for shelling out some Rs 2 billion from the plundered billions – once estimated at Rs 40 billion by the Bureau itself.
And thus he returns to the happy company of the 1,584 public servants who opted for voluntary return of embezzled funds under the notorious Section 25(a) of the NAB Ordinance. Will Raisani also get back to the magical money-minting chair as all others have done, there is no clue yet, but who knows in an ambience as defiled as the one that tends to prevail in today’s Pakistan. What a shame that a law meant to eliminate corruption should protect and promote corruption. It is not as if this daylight robbery is invisible to the naked eye but what to do when defenders of this very bad law are either above the law or too persuasive.
Sometime back, the Supreme Court did take suo motu notice of the looters and plunderers returning to their chairs after clinching plea bargain deals with the NAB and asked the authorities concerned to throw them out. But nothing of that sort seems to have happened because, as someone said, the Supreme Court hasn’t issued the “restraining order”. But even then they couldn’t be allowed to resume duties because voluntary return and plea bargaining is, in fact, tantamount to admission of guilt and therefore does not absolve them from attracting the charge of misconduct under the service law followed by initiation of disciplinary action against the accused.
On the face of it, Section 25(a) of the NAB Ordinance which permits voluntary return at the time of inquiry and plea bargaining during investigation, is more pragmatic than trying culprits through ordinary courts. But it is in conflict with various provisions of the constitution and offends the sense of morality – you sent someone to jail for stealing the watermelon but let go off the other who stole billions. And how come, while hundreds of corruption cases are gathering dust in its offices of the National Accountability Bureau, the plea bargain agreement could be reached with Mushtaq Raisani in less than six months.
The man collected billions of rupees not from one source, but from scores, and there must be many more that acted as go-between and shared the spoils. What would be their fate; they too violated the law of the land. On the other hand, take the case against former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf. The NAB has added two more references against him to the Rental Power Project case. That case is of the time he was minister for water and power in the last government and therefore possibly five years or more old.
The NAB claims to have recovered Rs 1,053 million under the voluntary return and plea bargain deals with different accused since last January. This indeed is a huge amount, yet not huge enough to help pervert the very concept of right and wrong in society and let go of the big thief while small ones rot in prisons.
It is time parliament reappraised justification of having the National Accountability Bureau as an anti-corruption outfit, and also try finding out why it has failed to control and curb the rampant curse of corruption in government offices.