Watching The Watchdogs: Towards An Agenda Of Accountability Reforms

Watching The Watchdogs: Towards An Agenda Of Accountability Reforms
Besides the Auditor General’s department (which is supposed to be a permanent watchdog) the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was established for stringent accountability. This was created as Ehtesab Bureau by an Act (on 31 May 1997). The office of Ombudsman is also playing its own role, but it does not have much bite.

The Ehtesab Act's principal objective was to eradicate corruption and corrupt practices from the public offices. It was aimed at providing effective measures, speedy prosecution and disposal of the cases. The National Accountability Bureau (Ordinance, 1999, modified in 2010) extended its scope to people involved in misuse or abuse of power or authority, misappropriation of property, taking of kickbacks, commissions and for ancillary matters. NAB laid emphasis on recovery of amounts from defaulters of banks, financial institutions and government agencies.

All offences under the Ehtesab Act were non-bailable. The punishment for corruption and corrupt practices was imprisonment for a period of 7 years, or a fine, or both, with forfeiture of property, assets and bank deposits obtained through such offences. Those abetting or assisting were equally liable to the same punishment or less. Persons convicted to more than two years of sentence would be debarred from contesting elections.

The clause of the Ehtesab Act for 'voluntary return' was amended, and the concept of plea bargains was added in the NAB Ordinance. Previously the holder of public office involved would voluntarily return property, assets, or gains acquired through corruption or corrupt practices. Under the NAB Ordinance, voluntary return and plea bargain entails that the holder of public office or any other person, prior to the authorisation of investigation, if they voluntarily come forward and offer to return the assets or gains acquired through such means, could exercise this option of plea bargain before or after the commencement of the trial, or even while an appeal against them is pending.

The amount deposited by the accused with NAB shall be transferred to the Federal Government or, as the case may be, a Provincial Government or the concerned bank or financial institution, company, body corporate, co-operative society, statutory body, or authority concerned, within one month from the date of such deposit.


Failure of the watchdogs:

The Department of the Auditor General has failed to deliver results due to the following reasons:

  1. The Auditor General has been submitting his reports to the President of Pakistan. Most of the time, these Presidents were from the military during Martial Law regimes.

  2. Then again during the civilian regimes, the Auditor Generals were handpicked people, placed there for political reasons.

  3. Most of the Audit Reports point out frivolous objections and lack of professionalism, as incompetent auditors are posted on key positions. The observations, that involve material and significant issues are usually settled at the departmental levels by the respective Director Generals, illegally.

  4. The autocratic attitudes of the leaders must be put to an end, if real accountability has to be conducted. No personal vendetta should be settled by any leader at the cost of the independence and prudence of the Auditor General’s department.


The plea bargains of the NAB have not proven to be effective, as the persons involved could be awarded imprisonment up to seven years only. This has diluted the concept of deterrent punishments and accountability.

  1. The deals made by the Chairman of NAB or Ehtesab Bureau are not transparent in case of plea bargains. The methodology and approaches should be made transparent and public. There is a great room for tampering during settlements amongst the NAB, because of the discretionary powers of the Chairman NAB and his team.

  2. One of the paramount reasons why sly officers of the NAB prefer a plea bargain and actively pursue the guilty to opt for it is because they get a certain percentage/commission of the recovered amounts as a reward.

  3. The courts of the Accountability Bureau are authorised to declare any place as a sub-jail. Most of the culprits live easy lives in hospitals declared as sub-jails, with flimsy and fake/concocted ailments. The rest of the bigwigs, in connivance with the NAB authorities, are allowed to escape from the country and bails are also granted to them.

  4. It is essential that performance audit of all accountability institutions should be held on a regular basis, by independent agencies. Even the department of the Auditor General must have a performance audit carried out by a third party, like chartered accountants of stature or others from outside the supreme auditing institution. It is important and relevant to know as to “Who is watching the watchdogs.”


In general, here are some suggested approaches for reform of accountability institutions:

  • Good governance

  • Increasing the severity of punishments

  • Transparency and enforcement of accountability practices

  • Restoration of weakened democratic institutions

  • Adherence to established practices and standards of accountability

  • Coordinating with and dissuading governments who harbour corrupt people and assist their money-laundering activities

  • Fostering an independent judiciary and an incorruptible police force

  • Consensus oriented governance

  • Equity and inclusiveness

  • Efficiency and effectiveness of processes and institutions

  • Revamping of the present NAB

  • Fostering attitudes of “social trust”