The National Assembly formed on Tuesday a much-anticipated new parliamentary committee, which will take up all pending amendments related to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). Since its creation in 1999, NAB has come under fire for a multitude of reasons. From concurring criticism for inhumane treatment of its detainees to the wide extent of powers bestowed upon it under the National Accountability Ordinance, affected parties complain at the structural flaws of the law that governs the NAB, and question whether the organisation really serves the ultimate purpose of accountability as it should be.

There has been a need for a comprehensive legislation to make the accountability process more transparent. Some opposition legislators have implied that political workers were victimised in the name of accountability, yet other members have criticised it for its lack of action against those in influential positions. Regardless of the nature of criticism, there is a consensus that there is a need to free NAB from political influence. NAB’s routine of releasing the details of ‘mega-scams’ that prominent names in circles of powers have committed have come to naught so far, and indeed apart from cutting down on isolated cases of white collar-crime, NAB has been unable to fulfil its ultimate goal of making this country even slightly less corrupt than it currently is.

One of the major problems lies with the appointment of the head of the body, that is done at the discretion of the Head of State. NAB has suffered due to this and hence a proposed amendment suggests that the NAB Chairman appointment should remain non-controversial and must include advice from the parliament or a committee of Parliamentarians that ensures representation for all houses. A provision to allow retired judges to be hired for the slot is also under consideration. Various other challenges currently faced by NAB, include a slow judicial process and the difficulty in collecting prosecutable evidence since the majority of country’s public record is not electronically archived or integrated into a central database. These need to be addressed with suitable policies.

But perhaps the most important criticism brought against the NAB was by Justice Jawad S. Khawaja of the Supreme Court for its practice of the ‘plea bargain’, where he described it as ‘institutionalised corruption.’ Under the said practice, NAB arrests suspects and negotiates for an out-of-court settlement under which the suspect is made to sign a confession and deposit funds of an amount determined by NAB. Ironically, the corruption within NAB itself has often led to its potential arrests being warned before NAB swoops in, allowing them ample time to secure their assets and head towards greener and safer pastures overseas. The principle of accountability needs to be embodied in every sense of the word within NAB for it to be fully effective in the future.