ISLAMABAD - Political high-ups are to blame for the ‘unsatisfactory’ performance of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to curb corruption and recover the looted money whether through plea bargain or any other mode of accountability, officials close to the accountability process say.

The anti-corruption watchdog is under criticism after it entered into a plea bargain with former officials of the Balochistan government in a mega corruption scam and some point the finger at it for recovering a pittance out of the actually embezzled amount.

NAB former deputy chairman Saeed Ahmed Sargana slated the process of appointment of the NAB chief and suggested making the nomination by a panel consisting of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, chief ministers of all provinces, opposition leader in the National Assembly and the prime minister.

He said that the current NAB chairman was appointed by the premier with the consent of the opposition leader in National Assembly but both the government and the opposition put him through the mill whenever he initiated action against corrupt politicians.

“The NAB chairman should be given a freehand against corruption and for the betterment of the institution,” he said.

Sargana also suggested that the chairman should be chosen from among the senior officials of the bureau.

He said that NAB was doing better than the provincial anti-corruption watchdogs. “Therefore, the NAB should be allowed to expand its operation at the union council level with a mandate to investigate all type of corruption cases,” he said.

He said the bureau can only investigate corruption of the more than Rs50 million but no other institution was doing the job of investigating cases involving less than the said sum.

Talking to The Nation, former NAB director-general Shahzad Anwar Bhatti said that the anti-graft body has brought back to national exchequer Rs285 billion looted money through the plea bargain or voluntary return.

He said if the political elite wanted to change these two ways of recovery then it should introduce an alternative mechanism.

“The NAB cannot change its ordinance and it’s the duty of parliament to amend the law and introduce a new one to make the process more proficient,” he said.

Bhatti mentioned that the NAB has filed hundreds of corruption references and courts had fined almost Rs85 billion on accused in these cases. He said not all this fine money has been recovered so far. He said that in several cases the amount could not be recovered because of the death of the accused during litigation.

Talking about the political pressure on the NAB, he said that every chief faced political interference and “we need to review the process of hiring the NAB chairman”. He said that it was NAB duty to take action against those involved in corruption as several corruption cases have proven against politicians.

Bhatti said that the NAB chairman should focus on maintaining discipline within the organisation. “The bureau should also be made independent financially and the government must allocate the requisite budget for NAB every year.”

According to the claims of its officials, one of NAB’s major achievements since its inception has been the recovery of around Rs285 billion of ill-gotten money which was deposited in the national exchequer.

But a retired NAB DG while speaking to The Nation on the condition of anonymity rejected this tall claim, saying the bureau just deceives the nation through figure fudging. He said that more than 50 percent amount of the recovered sum of Rs285 billion has been spent on the adjustment of bank loans.

He said that it was not an ideal time to accept the plea bargain request of corrupt officials of Balochistan. He said that NAB’s chief took the step just for his publicity through the media.

NAB claims that Pakistan was a role model for Saarc countries in the eradication of corruption as the country’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) has decreased from 126 to 117 according to Transparency International.

Pakistan has become the first Chairman of Saarc Anti-Corruption Forum which was a great achievement for Pakistan.

According to the NAB, during the last 16 years, it has received about 326,694 complaints from individuals and private/public organisations. During this period, the bureau authorised 10,992 complaint verifications, 7,303 inquiries, 3,648 investigations and filed 2,667 corruption references in accountability courts with overall conviction ratio of 76 percent.

The figures of complaints, inquiries and investigations are almost double as compared to the same period of 2015.

It says NAB initiated disciplinary proceedings against 84 officers/officials during the last two and half years, out of which, 60 cases have been finalised with 23 major penalties, 34 minor penalties and 4 exonerated. The NAB has established its forensic science lab in NAB Rawalpindi Regional Bureau.

The NAB has set up more than 42,000 character building societies in universities and colleges across the country to build an effective edifice against corruption, the bureau claims.