LAHORE - The speech delivered by National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman at the annual conference of the bureau’s director generals in Islamabad on Monday is one any seasoned bureaucrat, familiar with the art of keeping the government happy, could have given.

Mr Qamar Zaman Chaudhry is reported to have said that the bureau’s work had been adversely affected due to “various reasons” in the last few years, but the present management has initiated a process to put the NAB back on the track. According to him, 2014 was the year of “reinvigorating” the NAB.

The NAB top man also said that after a thorough analysis of defects in the structure and operations of the organisation, a restructuring programme has been put in place which has not only breathed a new life into organisation but also infused it with a new character marked by fairness, objectivity, professionalism and transparency.

In Pakistan it is a standard practice that those in power are praised and out-of-power reviled and held responsible for all problems. We see nothing negative in the rulers and nothing positive in others, including the past rulers. Had the state functionaries been courageous enough to speak the truth before the rulers, irrespective of the consequences, the situation would have been decidedly much different from what it is today.

Similarly, had the authorities responsible for uprooting corruption taken all corrupt to task without any discrimination or their affiliations, the country’s image would have been much better.

When the PPP was in power for five years, nobody (including the NAB functionaries) ever said that the anti-graft body is not discharging its functions properly. In fact the PPP leaders proudly claimed that they were not victimizing any of their opponents. It was being alleged that the PPP was setting new records of corruption, but no state institution took any notice. As the party was rejected in the 2013 elections because of its own failures and misdoings, its leaders are now facing cases.

The question is why don’t we have a system to proceed against those in power if they are involved in corruption, misuse of power or any other wrong doing. Why every time the watchdogs have to wait for the ouster of any government before proceeding against its functionaries?

Not long ago, then NAB chairman Admiral Fasih Bokhari had said that corruption worth Rs 8 billion per day, or Rs 2,920 billion per year, is committed in Pakistan. Nobody disputed the assertion. Perhaps, nobody could do that because the NAB chief knew what the ordinary mortals didn’t.  (A recent report carried by a newspaper said that then right hand man of Mr Zardari, Dr Asim Hussain, used to take Rs 20 million per day from a single institution, should be an eye opener. This report was issued to “clarify” an earlier claim based on the Rangers investigations, that Dr Asim used to pocket Rs 2,000 million a day).

“Three cheers” for the then NAB chief for disclosing the scale of corruption and at the same time keeping silent to his last day in office.

It is hard to believe that corruption has vanished with the change of government after the 2013 elections. It has not. The billions being spent on various schemes only to “win” votes in by-elections, upcoming local elections and the next elections are an open secret. But going by the past practice no institution will take any notice thereof.

One doesn’t know on what basis the incumbent NAB chief says his organization is back on track when there is no change in the on-ground situation. And nothing will improve unless the immunity from accountability available to those holding top positions in the government is withdrawn. Everybody involved in corruption should be brought to justice, no matter how important position he is holding in the government. And unless a constitutional amendment is made for such a ruthless accountability, and the relevant rules are amended for action against the mighty but corrupt bureaucrats without the prior approval of the prime minister, the chief ministers and chief secretaries, a meaningful accountability will not be possible.

It was because of this immunity that former president Asif Ali Zardari could not be proceeded against during his five-year incumbency although many cases were pending against him. And now that he is out of power and the relevant authorities are tightening noose around his buddies, he has decided to stay abroad.

It may be pointed out that at present action cannot be taken against top bureaucrats because their political, and at times administrative, bosses don’t give the relevant authorities a go-ahead. A number of cases are pending only because of lack of a nod from the relevant authorities.

 The NAB and the Anti-Corruption Establishments Organizations are the real tools against corruption. And they will not be able to deliver unless they are given a free hand.

This done, corruption will come down and nobody will dare deposit his/her ill-gotten wealth in foreign banks.

In Pakistan, accountability through elections is not the right approach. If some individual or party that made millions and billions through corrupt practices while in power is defeated in polls, the country gets nothing. The right methodology is to tear apart the tummies of the corrupt and recover the devoured money.  Such people should be disqualified for good for any public office.  

At present, Pakistanis are said to have $200 billion deposited in Swiss banks. The government said many a time that it would bring back this looted money, but so far there is no progress on this front. Had the relevant state institutions been performing their duties in time, corrupt elements would not have been able to take so much wealth out of the country.