On Wednesday, National Accountability Bureau (NAB) shocked everyone by announcing that it has accepted the plea bargain of former Secretary Finance Balochistan Mushtaq Raisani and contractor Sohail Majeed. As per details, both the accused would pay Rs. 2 billion to NAB and after that they will be free. This news was condemned by different quarters across the country.
Ironically, this decision, which is tantamount to giving an escape route to the corrupt, came days after the ‘Say No to Corruption’ campaign carried out by NAB through SMS spamming and other media. That campaign was subjected to mockery by people on social media and the acceptance of plea bargain of Mushtaq Raisani proves that NAB is certainly not interested in Saying NO to Corruption.
This daring raid was considered to be a new beginning in the corruption infested Balochistan. It was dubbed the starting point of an anti-corruption drive in Balochistan. Citizens believing in rule of law and fair play were very happy and they expected NAB to expand anti-corruption drive to other departments of Balochistan. However, the corruption cases of Mushtaq Raisani and Khalid Langove lingered on soon after the raid, and it became clear that it was just one off raid and NAB was not interested in across the board accountability.
The decision of NAB to accept plea bargain of Mushtaq Raisani and Sohail Majeed is unfortunate on many counts. First, it gives the indication that rampant corruption in Balochistan will continue unabated. Since 2008, Balochistan has been a den of corruption and the financial resources transferred down from federal government to Balochistan have ended up in pockets of politicians, bureaucrats and their partners in crime. Almost 1.5 trillion rupees have been received by Balochistan from the federal government since 2008 and one can’t see any meaningful change in the lives of people. In fact, Balochistan has the second highest incidence rate of poverty with 71.8% after FATA. The acceptance of plea bargain of Mushtaq Raisani means that it’s least likely that corruption in Balochistan will stop. In fact, it will flourish more.
Secondly, the plea bargain principle of NAB in general, and the case of Mushtaq Raisani in particular, encourages other people to get involved in corruption. The arrest of Mushtaq Raisani was the most high profile corruption arrest in recent times. When he can get away after paying an amount, then anyone can. This is huge encouragement for the people who want to indulge in corruption in the future. They know they can easily get away with whatever they do, thanks to the plea bargain option of NAB. Now, Mushtaq Raisani will be barred from holding any public office and borrowing loans from banks for 10 years. That’s the only clause that comes with plea bargain. It’s nothing short of a joke in any case.
Director General (DG) Operations NAB held a Press conference yesterday and defended the plea bargain acceptance of Mushtaq Raisani. He claimed that Mushtaq Raisani and Sohail Majeed were involved in corruption of Rs. 2.31 billion in local government funds and through plea bargain and taking over of their assets NAB would recover Rs. 3.25 billion. This claim by NAB is ridiculous to say the least. It’s a widely known fact that Mushtaq Raisani and his accomplices were involved in much bigger scale of corruption than just Rs. 2.31 billon. Apart from that, NAB has a history of failing to receive proposed amount of plea bargain from the convicted people.
Thirdly, this decision puts question marks on the intent of government of Pakistan to crack down on corruption. Especially in the backdrop of the Panamagate and the ongoing case in Supreme Court against the ruling Sharif family. This is certainly not a good omen for a corruption free Pakistan.
Moreover, the need of the hour is to crack down on corruption, not let the corrupt people go scot-free. There has been rampant corruption in many departments of Balochistan, in recent past, such as Communication and Works (C&W), Planning and Development (P&D), Education, Health and Balochistan Development Authority (BDA) and many others. It’s believed that kickbacks rate is highest in Balochistan as compared to all provinces and construction is not the favorite development activity without any reason. NAB should go after the crooks in the aforementioned departments rather than letting go the only big fish they have apprehended to date.
NAB has committed a blunder by accepting the plea bargain of Mushtaq Raisani. However, there is still one hope in the form of Supreme Court of Pakistan. In September this year, a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan took suo moto notice on the Voluntary Return and Plea Bargain practices of NAB. Honorable judges of Supreme Court remarked in another case recently that practice of Plea Bargain is boosting corruption. Therefore, law abiding citizens of Pakistan expect that Supreme Court would take notice and strike down the decision by NAB to provide Mushtaq Raisani the escape route using plea bargain.