The National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) plea bargain and Voluntary Return (VR) schemes – whereby people engaging in corruption and fraud can avoid conviction for it if they give up the gains made from the said practices – have been coming under a lot of criticism from politicians and jurists alike across the board. These are opinions by important personalities in the state and they should be taken into account, especially since their reasons are weighty and unanimous in their argument.

The most important voice here is the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which observed on Friday that voluntary return of the embezzled money by public servants under the provisions of the National Accountability Bureau Ordinance was increasing corruption and such officials should not be allowed to remain in service, instead they were taking advantage of the voluntary return scheme and plea bargains and getting reinstated to enjoy their respective offices. When the top legal authority in the nation terms a government action “against the spirit of the Constitution”, we must take note.

The Interior Minister Chaudry Nisar Ali Khan, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf Chairman Imran Khan are among the politicians that have criticised the policy with the Punjab Chief Minister going so far as to call the schemes “the real fraud.”

It is easy to see why. Government officials, who would otherwise suffer stringent than usual punishment for abusing their position as a public servant can not only avoid conviction for returning a portion of their ill-gotten gains, but can return to their offices too. This ridiculous scenario not only goes against the concept of a plea bargain – where the accused pleads guilty and gets declared a criminal in exchange for their cooperation – but also against any sense of propriety and justice.

This is not the only problem, the only argument under which this scheme can possibly be sustained – that too on a stretch – is that it would encourage the fraudsters to come forward voluntarily. Not only is that not happening, the NAB is applying the plea bargain scheme in open-shut cases like those of former finance secretary of Balochistan, Mushtaq Ahmed Raisani. Mr Rasani was caught red-handed, his property and gains are forfeit by law, yet the NAB has chosen to enter a plea bargain with Mr Rasani that will see him escape jail time in exchange for nominal cooperation.

NAB’s director general for operations, Zahir Shah comes forward, and by way of a defence, boasts that NAB has recovered billions from these people, but it is clear he is severely mistaken by the role of his institution. It is not to generate funds for the government, it is to hold corrupt officials accountable, and deter fraud.