Prime Minister Imran Khan has decided to clip the National Accountability Bureau (NAB)’s power to arrest any civil servant, serving or retired, in the garb of “misuse of authority” or for any “procedural lapse”.
Informed sources said that the prime minister has directed the law ministry to prepare draft ordinance to amend the NAB law so that the bureaucracy could be saved from country’s anti-graft body’s “harassment”.
Khan issued the directive to the law ministry after a meeting with chief secretaries and federal secretaries on Tuesday on their concerns vis-a-vis the NAB.
The Prime Minister’s Adviser on Establishment, Mohamed Shehzad Arbab, said when contacted that he does not know whether the premier has directed the law ministry for the issuance of an ordinance to amend the NAB law, but he confirmed that the prime minister did assure the secretaries that their concerns would be addressed shortly.
He disclosed that a draft amendment to this respect has been prepared for presentation at a cabinet meeting for the possible issuance of ordinance.
Sources said that the prime minister assured the bureaucracy that the bureaucrats would be “saved” from NAB action for any decision taken in good faith.
At present the NAB has the authority to arrest bureaucrats, serving or retired, on the basis of suspicion of corruption.
The NAB law, it is said, will be amended to bar the bureau from instituting proceedings against civil servants over their decisions or owing to procedural lapses.
In view of the “unending excesses” of the NAB against the bureaucracy and because of the continuing arrest of serving and retired officers in the absence of any incriminating evidence of corruption, the entire civil bureaucracy is very upset.
Reflecting the sentiments of the civil service, the federal secretaries recently joined hands against the NAB and plead their case before the government for an early resolution of the problem, “before the Bureau demolishes the administration completely”.
Prior to their meeting with the prime minister on Tuesday, a group of federal secretaries had met the army chief and shared their concerns about the NAB and its workings.
Last month, in the Secretaries Committee meeting, the federal secretaries described the NAB operation against bureaucrats as “intolerable” and “not acceptable”, and issued a demand for immediate amendments to the NAB law before the bureau “permanently impairs the work ethics of the civil service”.
They noted that the bureau, rather than checking corruption to improve governance, has become a hindrance to better service delivery and good governance.
The minutes of the Secretaries Committee meeting showed the bureaucracy’s complete lack of confidence in the NAB and its workings.
The secretaries said: “The practice of arrest and summons on trivial grounds, aimed at humiliating well-respected civil servants, is against the principles of good governance, hence not acceptable.”
The Secretaries Committee with a unanimous voice said: “Indiscriminate use of authority by NAB officers by issuing summons and warrants for senior functionaries on issues related to policy formulation is completely intolerable.”
They lamented: “Despite verbal assurances in the past, there seems to be no let-up towards civil service as, even today, the officers are summoned and intimidated without substantive evidence against them.”
They pointed out: “It is deplorable that Section 36 of NAO (National Accountability Ordinance) grants indemnity to actions taken by the NAB in good faith, whereas, all actions taken by other government functionaries are very frequently put under scrutiny being done with mala fide intent, though Section 23A of Civil Servants Act provides similar indemnity to the Civil Services as well.”
The committee said that it is worrisome to note that actions against the civil servants, in many cases, are based not on the material evidence of a wrongdoing, but on the exercise of judgement in a particular case, which may appear to be flawed at a future point.
“Ironically, most of the investigation officers of the NAB do not have sufficient experience and knowledge about the cases they are handling.
“Criminalisation of policy decisions would lead the civil servants to cautiousness and indecision, resulting in further slowdown of government processes and projects; there are clear signs that this is already happening.”
The secretaries said that the NAB, in its pursuit of the corrupt, has started questioning everyone involved in the decision-making process, disregarding the fact that the decision are taken in good faith based on information available at a certain time.
“Recently, the NAB has taken to questioning the decision made by the collective wisdom of the Cabinet and its Committees.
“Indifference towards legitimate executive authorities will discourage innovation and ingenuity, and promote risk-averse approach among civil servants and senior government functionaries,” the committee said, adding: “The adverse effects of these developments would eventually be felt by the public at large, as the government will not be able to implement its envisaged agenda, which requires strong commitment, initiative and drive on part of government functionaries at all levels.”
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