At the meeting of the National Assembly Standing Committee of Interior, a Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Director made the case for amendments in the Anti-Money Laundering Law of 2013. According to Additional Director General Basharat Mehmood Shehzad, FIA should have the same access to government records as the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

It is true that the FIA has not had a spectacular reputation for weeding out money-laundering in the past five years, a fact that has led Pakistan to consistently be a cause of concern for the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). It is also true that a lot of the shortcomings in the process of the FIA could be improved through amending the law to allow the FIA easier and faster function. Director Shehzad pointed out several ways where FIA is disadvantaged and gets slowed down from deterring money laundering- for example, while NAB has the authority to take records from any institution, if the FIA required records from a bank, they had to take permission from a sessions judge. The process of gaining approvals can take up to months and leads to red-tape and delays getting in the way of shutting down financial crime. The FIA Director also raised the valid issue of people harbouring illegal benami accounts- the practice of holding benami property — moveable or immovable — which plays a significant role in enabling tax evasion, money laundering and terror financing. Due to banks themselves playing an increasing role in encouraging benami accounts, the FIA has had difficulty in weeding out these sources of illegally harboured wealth. Allowing the FIA easier access to records and tax evasion details would certainly make the process of cracking down on money-laundering more efficient.

Yet in our hurry to improve our investigation agencies, let us not forget the accountability systems and limits to power that already exist. The goal of the law-makers ought to be to address the shortcomings in the Anti-Money Laundering Law, not to merge the FIA’s powers with the NAB so that the two seem indistinguishable. Separation of powers, and each institution functioning in its own capacity, is an important building block of our accountability system. There is already concern that the NAB and the FIA have an overlap of jurisdiction in many issues; a conflation that only weakens the legal process and gives way to loopholes. Further intersection of NAB’s and FIA’s powers is not the way to go about solving FIA’s qualms.