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EDITORIAL: Finally, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has received the green light, from the law ministry, to investigate the National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB’s) alleged, negligence in the Broadsheet case. The matter had been lingering since March, when the one-man commission formed by PM Imran Khan in January to scrutinise the $28.706 million payment to Broadsheet delivered its findings and the federal cabinet referred to FIA for a thorough investigation. But NAB disputed FIA’s jurisdiction so the law ministry had to be called in. And now, after so much time has been wasted, a proper investigation can begin.

NAB’s issue with FIA’s jurisdiction is a curious matter, because it implies that the watchdog considers itself above accountability. Surely, it cannot investigate its own self, so another body would have to do the job. Why, then, would it matter if it’s the FIA or some other investigating agency? It is precisely because of such high-headedness that NAB, as an institution of accountability, has lost the trust of the people and every political party other than the one in power at any point in time. And it is quite the dilemma, both for the government and the people, that its name has become synonymous with victimisation rather than responsibility.

Another agency investigating it will also give everybody the opportunity to see just how scrupulous the Bureau really is, considering that it is perceived to have made it something of a mission to open corruption cases against politicians that tend to disagree with the government of the time. At stake is not just the question of it being on- or off-the-mark in one case, although Broadsheet has very serious and deep implications, but rather the already very badly damaged accountability process in the country. The government should not forget that the election is not very far away anymore, and it did come to power on the promise of accountability, so it will have to make sure, beyond reasonable doubt, that NAB is up to the task. And if it turns out that it was negligent after all in a very important case that caused the government considerable loss of precious foreign exchange and prestige, then heads must roll and examples must be made.

Opposition leaders, especially those who have caught NAB’s attention recently, can now be expected to beat the told-you-so drum as loud as they can even though a formal investigation hasn’t even properly begun and the result cannot be expected for a while. Yet the current political environment is so charged that NAB, because it’s in the front line of the government’s accountability war, is perhaps the most controversial institution in the whole country. Still, it’s also not as if it does its own reputation a world of good. In the last three years, when witch-hunt accusations have been higher than at any time in the last two decades, it tossed a number of high- and low-profile opposition politicians into its detention cells, but it still failed to find incriminating evidence to back its actions in even one case.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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