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EDITORIAL: It was for good reason that even senators on the standing committee on petroleum were forced to agree with Petroleum Secretary Dr Arshad Mehmood when he implied that the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB’s) actions might be doing more harm than good to the national economy. The petroleum division (PD) in fact even went a step further and called for the so-called accountability watchdog to be “reined in” so the country could achieve “its potential.” You can’t argue with that line of reasoning, as indeed the senators couldn’t, because NAB has quite literally turned the law on its head in that it considers all suspect parties guilty until they prove themselves innocent. And nobody in their right mind would invest or even park their money in a place where they can be dragged into endless, and very costly, litigation just because the local Bureau couldn’t put two and two together in its homework.

There’s no point in wasting any more time in trying to figure out just how many times NAB has spooked foreign as well as local investors - even though it is understandable why the petroleum secretary still gave a few examples - because everybody who matters, and also everybody else, agrees that it has become more a part of the problem than the solution. And there can be no bigger proof of this than the fact that even seasoned bureaucrats go into hibernation at the first mention of it, with the obvious result that the machinery that runs this country suddenly comes to a standstill.

There is much weight in PD’s suggestion that some other agency, like the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for example, should take over NAB’s jurisdiction over commercial agreements in the oil and gas sector. The government would do itself a big favour by giving this matter its most serious attention. The oil and gas sector is, after all, its biggest headache at the moment. And if NAB, which is supposed to remove all sorts of corruption and nonsense so investment can flood in, has rules that rub investors the wrong way because they make very little sense, then it is best to let some other arm of the government relieve it of some of its workload.

But PD’s other demand, that the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) should also be abolished while signing commercial oil and gas agreements, cannot be agreed with. These rules have to be followed because there simply has to be a very clear, laid-down, structured process for procurement; whether it is procurement of services or procurement of goods and materials. One very important reason for that is that in many ways public procurement is the very fountainhead of corruption in the government sector. So while something clearly needs to be done about NAB, and its penchant for robbing contracts signed of their sanctity and then dragging eager investors through courts, PPRA cannot really be fiddled with at the moment.

Whatever steps the government will take need to be taken sooner rather than later because this is not one of those matters that can be brushed under the carpet too many times. Even detaching NAB right now will not bring back the many investors that have tested our waters and then run away. The best that can be hoped for is attracting new ones. That is why the sooner the government clips some of NAB’s unnecessarily overbearing wings the better for investors, the economy, and therefore the whole country. It would be a shame if this matter drags on any further. At stake is not just the health of some party’s political narrative, but that of the national economy itself.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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