Pakistan loses $1.8 bn to corruption



Islamabad: Pakistan is estimated to have lost a staggering Rs 150 billion (USD 1.8 billion), thanks to the immunity granted to politicians, bureaucrats and senior military officers charged with corruption and the scrapping of the country's corruption watchdog, a media report said on Saturday.

While Rs 100 billion was lost due to the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) then president Pervez Musharraf promulgated in 2007, another Rs 50 billion will be lost with the winding up of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) that was investigating corruption cases against the high and the mighty.

"While the nation is still mourning the loss of Rs 100 billion as a result of the infamous NRO, many more billions are about to be lost, as the dying NAB has been rendered useless to pursue ripe cases of corruption," The News said.

It quoted sources in the NAB as saying that "after being made a dormant organisation for the last two years, the bureau is no more effectively pursuing certain high-profile cases of corruption involving at least Rs 50 billion".

The sources said the NAB, "which is on the verge of its death, has dozens of ripe cases of mega corruption while it is also receiving complaints of massive corruption in government departments, but it remains unmoved".

The NRO had enabled former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and a host of other politicians to return from exile by granting them immunity from the corruption charges pending against them in various Pakistani courts.

In April, a bill to scrap the NAB and transfer its powers to the legislature was tabled in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament. Tabling the bill, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Babar Awan said NAB was widely seen to have been used as a tool for taking political revenge.

During the last decade, "a total of Rs 225 billion looted money has been recovered by the NAB", The News said.

Among the cases before the NAB are a Rs 10 billion forest scam in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), a multi-billion rupee pension scam extending across all four provinces, a Rs 16 billion forex scam and a Rs 7.5 billion land grabbing scam in Karachi.

"In some of these cases, it is said the NAB has already been informally told not to proceed whereas in other cases too the bureau is practically unmoved for the last one year because of its uncertain future," The News said.

A federal minister, according to the newspaper, "has recently successfully influenced the NAB and barred it from taking any action against the timber mafia in the NWFP "with the connivance" of the provincial government. As its result, "truckloads worth millions are being smuggled with the connivance of the Frontier authorities everyday".

In certain court cases, the NAB was directed "not to contest them so as to enable the acquittal of the influential accused. A senior NAB source said that a top ruler in Islamabad and an influential Sindh minister, who had opted not to get their cases quashed through the NRO, got themselves acquitted from courts after ensuring that the NAB lawyers did not contest their cases in the court of law", the newspaper said.

IANS