"Prosecuting Corruption: The Case of Pakistan," with Masood Khan and Niaz A. Shah. Prepared for presentation at the 2004 Ethics Forum, American Society for Public Administration, 26-27 March. (Queen's University, Belfast Institue of Governance Working Paper QU/GOV/11/2004)
The prosecutorial approach treats corruption like any crime, and to that extent it tends to focus on those acts that have been “juridified” – that is, made explicitly illegal and subject to some form of juridical process where the determination of guilt and imposition of sanctions are expected. Under systems where the rule of law is taken seriously, this approach does result in distinguishing between petty actions of dishonesty (e.g., stealing paper clips from the office for personal use) and more significant violations, some of which are formally treated as crimes in the legal system.
Elevating corruption to a criminal act raises the question of legal purpose. Is the intent to extract justice through prosecution, or to prevent further corruption? This is a classic question asked of all legal systems, but in this instance it helps distinguish between prosecution as a means for seeking retribution through punishment and prosecution as an anti-corruption tool. “Legal repression” has long been regarded as the most effective way to deal with systemic corruption, whether we are speaking about the United States during its Progressive Era (McGovern 1907) or China at the height of the Cultural Revolution (Liu 1983).
In the balance of this paper we will examine a special case of the prosecutorial approach to fighting corruption: the work of Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB). We will pay special attention to a unique aspect of the NAB mission – its mandate to seek some restitution of resources lost to corruption through it prosecutorial powers.