I’ll not spare any corrupt, thieve or a plunderer; this was and until recently has been a “must” in any of public speech by Prime Minister Imran Khan. Be it a public rally, a government function or a foreign visit, Imran Khan argued with passion and fervor that rampant corruption in Pakistan was to be blamed for all the economic ills of the country. He always hasted to add in same breadth that come what may, his government was not going to spare any one.

No wonder, National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has been the busiest organ of the Government ever since the new government assumed the powers. A rather sluggish and bit of laid back NAB as seen during last over a decade or so suddenly turned into a firebrand hawkish organization. Politicians, senior bureaucrats suspected to be partners of alleged crime and businessmen suspected of tax bungling turned out high value targets. The process of NAB investigation often turned out humiliating and dreadful for most of the accused as media trial instantly accompanied with the proceedings as well.

Expectedly, politicians from the opposite benches had the earliest brunt of the accountability. Whole top and much of the 2nd tier leadership of PMLN was rounded up and put behind the bar. Politicians belonging to PPP also met with the same fate. Along with politicians, host of bureaucrats and businessmen have been facing inquiries and investigations of NAB as well.

The Chairman NAB has been a regular charmer of media stressing that nobody was above the law and that he was fearless crusader against the corruption. He recently rebutted the criticism that accountability was skewed towards the opposition parties and didn’t touch the PTI affiliates who had many complains registered against them with NAB. One way accountability was the general impression in the public and media which finally had a response from NAB Chairman who recently hinted the reversal of winds blowing.

Amidst the hues and cries of economic slowdown, members of scared bureaucracy and business tycoons of the country met few weeks back with the Army Chief of Staff to vent their grievances against “across the board accountability”.

With this background and so called zero tolerance, a surprise popped up last week. Amendments in NAB’s law have been proposed for apparent clipping of its wings and powers to nab bureaucrats, businessmen and possibly benefiting many politicians too. A leading analyst commented; that aggressive “accountability drive” the PTI launched is now its dyeing throes. Opposition termed it as “mother of U Turns”.

However, Advisor to the Prime Minister, Shahzad Akbar, was quick to dispel any such impression. He rather took the credit that long awaited amendments in NAB Laws are being undertaken by PTI Government. He said previously the law was such that a person could be embroiled in a NAB case simply for having made a “wrong decision”. Akbar said one of the aims of bringing in the amendments was to address the clause of “misuse of authority”.

“So an addition to the clause has been made whereby ….it will be examined whether there was personal monetary benefit attached to their decision, If such an advantage emerges only then will it be considered corruption.”

The second amendment was made for the issue of taxation which will be dealt by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) and not by NAB. He also explained a sub-section of the ordinance pertaining to procedural lapses. “If there is a procedural lapse, a rule has been violated but there is no element of corruption and no undue advantage, [it won’t be taken up by NAB]…that no action will be taken against any public office holder over the rendition of any advice, opinion or report by them unless proof of corruption or benefit is provided”.

Pakistan has a dismal record of departmental and anti-corruption agencies. FBR has larger piles of corruption allegations than revenue collection. Likewise, across the board accountability has been largely skewed towards political arm-twisting or political vendetta; accountability of 90’s and early Musharraf era are stark reminders.

Now, hastily proposed and implemented amendments are feared to pave different tracks for accountability process; NAB for mega corruption and leading opposition leaders, FBR for businessmen and usual departments disciplinary committees for bureaucrats. The devil hidden in definitions like misuse of authority, selective application to public office holders and establishing if monetary benefit derived may have many surprises in store as well. Corruption never had so many channels; no green channels for sure but channels of various shades are feared to end up where the circle of across the board accountability started.

Khalid Mahmood Rasool

The writer is a Lahore based political economist, writer and Urdu columnist.