On Friday, the DG and prosecutor general of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) appeared in Supreme Court to file a report of cases pertaining to corruption of relatively lesser amounts, during the hearing of an appeal filed by the NAB contesting the rejection of remand of a private person by the accountability court – a normal day in the lives of these government officials.

However, it is during the course of this hearing that the Supreme Court made some damning remarks against the operations of NAB; and they deserve attention.

A two-judge bench headed by Justice Amir Hani Muslim observed that those held for corruption were taking advantage of the voluntary money return scheme and plea bargains and getting reinstated to enjoy their respective offices despite being irrefutably implicated in corrupt practices – highlighting the flaw in the NAB’s policies.

While plea bargaining – the suspect admitting to some, usually minor, crimes and providing evidence in exchange for the more serious charges being dropped – is a common practice in criminal prosecution, it was never intended to be applied in instances of corruption by public officials; especially the way NAB is applying it.

Known criminals can be returned to the streets, but known embezzlers are never reinstated to their office – this is common sense, and law. The Supreme Court pointed out that such schemes are prima facie in contradiction with several clauses of the Constitution, and need to be revoked. The NAB’s desire to recoup lost money is understandable, and plea bargaining may help gather evidence for other convictions, but at least a permanent ban on holding public office must be made part of such schemes.

The Court also berated NAB for not perusing mega corruption cases and only going after small infractions – a long standing complaint of the judiciary that the NAB always manages to ignore.

The explanation – or the excuse, more accurately – presented by NAB when questioned about its voluntary return schemes was to assert that it was the job of individual government departments to take disciplinary actions against these official, not NAB’s. Which makes one wonder what exactly is the job description of the accountability body is if individual departments have to insure accountability themselves.

They are a mockery of the law, the “schemes” of NAB. A corrupt civil official, facing jail time, can pay back a portion of the stolen wealth to not only escape prosecution, but to go back to enjoying the same office he stole this revenue from – all under the official sanction of NAB.

It may be pertinent to ask at this point, who is the body working for, the government, or the corrupt civil servants?