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EDITORIAL: The Federal cabinet has approved Rs 400 million for the establishment of 30 accountability courts all across the country. It may be recalled that during a suo motu hearing the Supreme Court had ordered the Law Secretary to immediately seek instructions from the government for setting up of 120 accountably courts to clear a huge backlog of cases. The apex court in its order of October 21 of last year had sought a compliance report within one month. Prime Minister Imran Khan promptly gave his approval. Given that the main plank of his reform agenda is fighting financial corruption, he would surely be more than happy to do that. Due to financial constraints, however, his government has decided to take the implementation process forward in a phased manner as a lot of money is required to create the necessary infrastructure as well as for the appointment of judges, their support staff and other expenses. This would be in addition to the money several subordinate courts need to install proper infrastructure.

The National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB’s) failure to take most corruption cases to a logical conclusion is frequently blamed, rightly so, on unprofessional credentials of its investigating officers and prosecutors. But part of the problem is also that the number of accountability courts to try the suspects is too few, whilst some of them are dysfunctional because of lack of interest on the law ministry’s part to recruit presiding officers. Out of the 24 courts at present, five have been without judges for several years. As a result, more than 1,226 corruption references have been pending since the year 2000 whereas all such cases, under the accountability law, are to be decided within 30 days. Even if all the existing vacancies were filled, it would have been humanly impossible for the judges to complete due process for so many cases of complicated white collar crimes within such a short period. The new 30 courts are expected to help mitigate the situation to a significant extent.

It is worth noting also that most of the pending corruption references involving politicians were instituted on the watch of the two previous elected governments. They made no effort to pursue these cases, apparently, out of a desire to settle scores with their rivals by keeping them under pressure. Similarly, the opposition parties now crying foul about NAB’s working have made no attempt to remove the defective clauses from the accountability law or to replace it with a fairer one. Their objections to the changes this government has made in the law may be valid, but that does not resolve anything. What is needed is an open debate in Parliament on reform of the accountability mechanism so as to remove the flaws in the NAB law that make the present exercise controversial or supplant it with something better.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021