NAB vs Vice Chancellors: Witch-Hunt of the Weak and Vulnerable in the Name of Accountability
The images of two retired Vice Chancellors of public sector universities being handcuffed and taken to National Accountability Bureau (NAB) courts under police custody has shocked the conscience of the nation in general and the academic community in particular. This episode raises questions about the capacity of NAB to apprehend the privileged, the powerful, and the untouchables.
The first question which comes to mind in relation to this incident is whether the cases under consideration are serious enough to justify interference by the top anti-graft body of the country. Anti-corruption watchdogs across the globe operate on the principle that only those individuals should be targeted whose prosecution will yield enough recovery to justify spending of state resources on their prosecution. Considering the social status of university heads in Pakistan, this is but natural to assume that prosecution of retired Vice Chancellors, even if charges are proved against them, is unlikely to yield the desired results.
The allegation against one of the Vice Chancellors is that he sold the name of the university to private owners by allowing them to open private campuses under its franchise. The private owners in turn flaunted the university rules and regulations while giving admissions and awarding degrees. The other Vice Chancellor is charged for giving the university’s land to the provincial government, making irregular appointments and giving the position of departmental head to his wife, in violation of rules. Nowhere in the world are these allegations taken to be of sufficient gravity to allow the principal anti-graft body to start prosecutorial action.
At best, these can be treated as cases of misuse of authority, irregularities and nepotism warranting departmental action, or trial before regular anti-corruption courts. Had these cases been tried before ordinary courts, the elderly Vice Chancellors would have been facing trials as ordinary accused entitled to the concession of bail, instead of making news headlines in handcuffs, inviting public attention and sympathy. It appears that the honourable superior courts need to set guidelines with respect to the magnitude of corruption and the justification of prosecutorial action by NAB.
Secondly, the PTI-led government needs to do some soul searching with regard to its policies on anti-corruption. In response to the Prime Minister’s call for crackdown against corruption, NAB authorities have become overzealous, and in their effort to show performance they are putting hands on insignificant targets like retired Vice Chancellors of public sector universities from whom very little can be recovered. On the other hand, big shots like property tycoons and corrupt bureaucrats are still on the loose to plunder public wealth with impunity because NAB is too afraid to lay hands on them.
Additionally, PM’s obsession with corruption has given departmental heads an opportunity to settle score with their predecessors and shift the blame on them for everything wrong with their institutions. This shifting of blame is easier because a retired individual is weak, vulnerable and defenseless. Hence, the ongoing trials of the former Vice Chancellors would be seen as nothing but retaliation and witch-hunting of the powerless. It is high time for the government to realize that NAB’s resources should be spent on cases where huge recoveries are anticipated and where the gravity of the offence justifies that treatment.
There is no denying the fact that strong measures should be taken to curb the menace of corruption, however, while taking these measures the possibility of cases motivated by grudge and vendetta should not be ruled out altogether. Furthermore, at least some respect should be shown to the elderly members of the teaching community. After all, they are thought to be the builders of the nation and they don’t have to be handcuffed as there is hardly any chance of their abscondence.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which he might be associated.