NAB HAS become a major drag on the economy, paralysing decision-making across all tiers of government. So when the petroleum secretary told a Senate panel that the dreaded anti-corruption watchdog had ‘dispossessed government officials of the initiative to take decisions’ and that NAB’s “brutal act” was imposing heavy costs on the economy, he was giving voice to popular sentiment. He said that NAB needed to be restrained so that the country could achieve its full potential. “Countries cannot be run like this,” he was quoted to have said in his testimony to the panel. “Investors are squirming,” he added, citing several examples where fear of action by the accountability agency has kept bureaucrats from making crucial decisions at the expense of the economy and the people. One such instance is the indecision over the utilisation of 200mmcfd of spare capacity at the existing RLNG terminals, which can be utilised to generate 1,200 MW of electricity, because of fears of endless NAB inquiries. The panel agreed, indicating that the accountability body was damaging the business environment and economy.
If NAB has earned anything in its more than two decades of existence, it is the widespread mistrust of people from all segments of society. Though the agency has been mired in controversy since its early years, the uncalled for interventions by the watchdog in more recent times under its present chairman, in several spheres of life, have robbed it of whatever integrity or credibility it had — if any. Unfortunately, many now see NAB as a key obstruction in the way of the nation’s progress. It is lamentable that NAB has achieved few results in over 20 years and its attempts to stop corruption and financial wrongdoings have been largely unsuccessful. Rather, in recent years it has been turned into a tool for political persecution of opponents of sitting governments. The eagerness with which NAB has been instituting corruption cases against opposition politicians — as well as bureaucrats and businessmen linked with them at some point or the other — to put them in jail, often on flimsy charges, illustrates the willingness of the NAB bureaucracy to toe the line of the ruling circles out to get the opposition. It is sad that the government appears reluctant to rein in NAB in spite of a broader realisation of the adverse impacts of the so-called accountability drive on the economy and the well-being of citizens.