New mechanism introduced to protect government servants from NAB harassment

Islamabad: In a major development, a new mechanism has been introduced to save government servants from unnecessary harassment and arbitrary arrests by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

Following consultation between incumbent NAB chairman and Punjab government, the new initiative has been introduced in the Punjab. Other provinces will follow suit to help regain the lost confidence of government servants for better performance and decision-making.

The Punjab government has notified a Scrutiny Committee, comprising senior government servants, to conduct preliminary probe and ascertain the veracity of content of complaint received by NAB against any government servant. The Scrutiny Committee will ensure civil servants are given adequate opportunity of representation in the NAB.

Issued by Services & General Administration Department (S&GAD) on January 11, the notification says subsequent to the visit of Chairman NAB in Punjab Civil Secretariat, Lahore and address to civil bureaucracy on December 4, 2023, the following Scrutiny Committee is notified: Secretary Services, S&GAD, Convener; Secretary (Implementation & Coordination) S&GAD, Member; representative of Secretary, Law & Parliamentary Affairs Department, and; any other member co-opted by the Committee.

Sources said the committee will also include a representative from NAB. The following are the terms of reference (TORs) of the Scrutiny Committee:

i. Upon receipt of a complaint from National Accountability Bureau against a civil servant, conduct a preliminary probe to ascertain the veracity of the contents of complaint.

ii. After completion of preliminary probe, share its findings/recommendations with NAB after approval of the competent authority. iii. To ensure that civil servants are given adequate opportunity of representation/hearing in NAB. Sources said the new mechanism has been evolved to boost the confidence of government servants, who because of NAB harassment in the past, have become hesitant to take even routine decisions.

Although NAB has been criticised for misuse of its authority since its creation, during the tenure of last chairman Javed Iqbal, the Bureau was ruthless in arresting politicians and bureaucrats. Not only highly-reputed senior bureaucrats were arrested and jailed for months and even years, cases of corruption were opened without any concrete evidence against many top bureaucrats, including federal and provincial secretaries.

In most of these cases, the courts found no valid grounds for the NAB to proceed against government servants and raised questions over the capabilities of NAB officials to understand the basic working of government servants.

Because of the harassment of civilian bureaucracy by the NAB, working of government and its decision-making have seriously been dented owing to which the government performance was also affected. Government servants became shy of taking even routine policy decisions.

For the same reason, successive prime ministers and even army chiefs during the last several years have been highlighting the issue of NAB-haunted bureaucracy and its negative impact on the performance of the government.

However, despite the realisation and promises, no mechanism was evolved for scrutiny of NAB complaints against government servants.

Army Chief General Asim Munir, in his interaction with government servants, had also committed NAB’s misuse of power will be checked to encourage government servants to take decisions. Sources said the NAB chairman was also conveyed by the Army Chief to bring reforms in the NAB to check its injustices, particularly against the government servants.

The present NAB management is not following the past policy of arrests of government servants merely on the basis of complaint. Instead, hardly any government servant is arrested and it is ensured that only those cases are pursued where there is concrete evidence available.