The government has presented the much-talked about new Accountability Act in the Parliament for its approval. While NAB will be abolished, a new Accountability Commission will be set-up. There are major differences between National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) - 1999 and Holders of Public Offices Accountability Act - 2009. NAO's scope was wide ranging including public office holders (PM, governors, CMs, ministers, MNAs/MPAs etc), Local bodies, government servants, armed forces officers heading civilian government organisations and private sector (banks, corporations, financial institutions etc). The new Act is limited to public office holders only. Above implies that corruption cases of federal government servants will henceforth be handled by FIA as was the case till 2004, when these powers were transferred to NAB. Cases of corrupt provincial employees would continue to be handled by the concerned Anti-Corruption Establishments (ACE). FIA and ACE are extremely politicised departments, under bureaucratic control where cases are opened mostly against lower level officers. Rarely have senior federal and provincial government officers been held accountable for corrupt practices by FIA and ACE. In FIA's case for example, it failed to ever convict a single officer above Grade 19. Within its first three years, NAB obtained convictions against 221 public officials including 24 in Grade 20, ten in Grade 21 and one in Grade 22. The overall conviction rate of FIA (28 percent) and ACE (upto 10 percent) are no way near NAB's conviction rate of 67 percent at Accountability court level, which came down to 59 percent in January 2009 in the wake of NRO and PPP takeover. Since 2000, NAB prosecuted around 1400 government servants, 400 businessmen, 117 politicians, 21 ex-armed forces officers and 1,058 others (bankers, public scams, financial institutions etc), which reflects the diversity in NAB's anti-corruption efforts. Serious offences like accumulation of assets/benami properties beyond known sources of income, wilful loan default and cheating public at large stand deleted from the new Act. This implies that all public office holders who amass illegal wealth/benami properties or have wilfully defaulted and devoured mega loans cannot be prosecuted by new Accountability Commission. Most of the cases of politicians by NAB under NAO were related to amassing huge wealth/assets/benami properties through corrupt means, which were easily detectable from revenue record, bank transactions etc. Aspects of illegal gratification, bribery etc have been kept in this Act which normally are very difficult to prove. NAB recovered 116 billion rupees in cash in cases of wilful loan defaults and got loans worth 67 billion rupees restructured/rescheduled. However in light of a government decision in Shaukat Aziz era, references of cases of loan defaults to NAB reduced drastically in last three years. With wilful loan default no longer a corruption offence, the public office holders can rejoice and rob banks with ease, without any fear of prosecution. Whether the defaulted loans that were reportedly written off to the tune of 50 billion rupees in the last few years are ever recovered is anybody's guess. If the government really cared for the poor masses, it should have retained the offences related to public frauds and cheating public at large in the new Act. NAB achieved wonders in cases of mega public scams and recovered billions from the fraudsters which were returned to over 300000 victims of public scams. As a most recent example, around 750 million rupees recovered from the Double Shah scam was returned to over 14000 affectees in Lahore since March 2008. NAB ensured that dozens of executives of illegal and fraudulent financial companies remain in jail for misappropriating billions looted in the promise of exorbitant monthly returns. Accountability of public scams is not within the purview of FIA/ACE, so does the government expect the police to prosecute the fraudsters, recover the looted money and return it honestly to the rightful claimants? In short, the government has thrown the masses at the mercy of the crooks and fraudsters. Under NAO all corruption offences were non-bailable at level. However under the new Act, the corruption offences are bailable and public office holders will not be arrested. The punishment has also been reduced from upto 14 years RI in NAO to 7 years RI in this Act. This reflects the lack of political will and commitment of the government to create a deterrent effect against the corrupt. Accountability courts set-up under NAO and operating under the respective High Courts will be abolished and corruption cases will be tried by Sessions Court. Under NAO, corruption was taken as a special offence, hence the need for special Accountability courts. Other special offences related to terrorism, narcotics, drugs, customs/tax evasion, immigration etc have special courts in Pakistan. No wonder the government has downgraded corruption offences of public office holders to normal status. Remember Accountability courts were independent and 41 percent cases were decided against NAB. The process of Plea Bargain (PB) that was successfully implemented by NAB and led to recovery of over 25 billion rupees of corruption/looted money has been deleted from the Act. It was not any deal under the table, but approved by the judge Accountability Court. The accused in return of pleading guilty and agreeing to return the looted amount would not get a jail sentence but would stand convicted in the eyes of law and be declared ineligible for public office as well as getting loan from a financial facility for ten years. On the contrary the new Act only keeps the provision of voluntary return (as also in NAO), but specifies no penalty or sentence if the accused returns the illegal gains after the Reference is filed in the Sessions Court. The Accountability Act violates the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), which Pakistan ratified in 2007 by deleting the key pillars of anti-corruption i.e. Awareness and Prevention. In line with UN requirements and best international anti corruption practices, each provincial NAB had an Awareness and Prevention wing which held anti-corruption awareness public seminars, poster/declamation competitions, students workshops, radio/television programmes etc. For the first time in many years, Pakistan did not observe the International Anti Corruption Day on December 9, 2008. Although it fell on Eid day, yet the offices of Transparency International, Pakistan and UNODC, Islamabad tried their best to invite the highest public office holders to the annual seminar in Islamabad on other dates, but to no avail. Perhaps the government was in no mood to embarrass the NRO benificiaries present in a national anti-corruption seminar observing the International Anti Corruption Day. The pillar of Corruption Prevention has been deleted from this Act. NAB, under the authority of NAO, carried out many corruption prevention programmes related to improving the systems of public sector departments or addressing a recurring corruption issue so as to minimise chances of corruption. The importance of Corruption Prevention can be gauged from the fact that anti-corruption agencies the world over have corruption prevention set-ups. The Chinese established their National Bureau of Corruption Prevention (NBCP) as a first step after signing the UNCAC in September 2007. A NAB delegation was specially invited to visit China in July 2008 to brief the Chinese on our experiences on corruption prevention. As per the UNCAC, all member countries are required to have one apex national anti-corruption agency which should have a wide scope of accountability as was the case with NAB i.e. both public and private sector, which is also followed in most of other member countries. By drastically reducing the anti-corruption scope, and distributing the national anti-corruption efforts over FIA etc, we are in violation of UNCAC. The silver lining in the Act however is that over 1500 corruption cases worth 160 billion rupees including cases under trial in Accountability Courts and ongoing NAB inquiries/investigations will stand transferred to the Session Courts for continued trial and Accountability Commission respectively. These will however be processed under the NAO-1999. The Holders of Public Office Accountability Act is a joke with Accountability. For the government corruption may be a priority, accountability certainly is not. The government's lack of political will and commitment to counter corruption in Pakistan is grossly evident from this draft Act. This document was prepared under the supervision of the worthy ex-law minister since early last year. It appears that no professional expertise has gone into its preparation. I wish the National Anti-Corruption Strategy Document, 2002, that was finalised after an intensive national debate and interaction with international anti-corruption experts, as well as the charter of UNCAC had been consulted in preparing the draft Act. If enacted in present form, it may invite objections from the UN. If General Musharraf 's NRO was a setback to the process of accountability, the new Act is an eyewash and sounds the death bell of accountability in Pakistan. The beneficiaries of NRO not only managed to keep the booty, but under the garb of victimisation, successfully dismantled the first ever institutionalised process of accountability in Pakistan. The new Act is a clear victory for the forces of corruption in Pakistan. Agreed, that abolishing NAB was a requirement of the COD, but it certainly gives no right to our political leadership to do away with institutionalised accountability in the country. While allegations of selective accountability against NAB that resulted due to government interference do carry weight, but is no justification to rollback the process of accountability in Pakistan. If Pakistan is to break the begging bowl and achieve socio-economic progress with dignity, it must adopt zero tolerance against corruption. The draft Act must be reviewed in larger national interest. The writer is a retired brigadier E-mail: fhkhan54@gmail.com