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Wednesday October 27, 2021

Accountability matters

September 17, 2021

Appointments in some of the top state organisations must remain without controversy. That is the reason the constitution provides for a mandatory consultation mechanism for appointing heads of independent bodies such as the Election Commission of Pakistan and the National Accountability Bureau. The four-year term of the incumbent NAB chairman is coming to a close in the first week of October. The process of consultation between the leader of the opposition and the prime minister should have started much earlier, but with less than three weeks remaining before the expiry of the term, there is no indication that the two parties are going to meet anytime soon. To pick a successor is imperative as per the law the term is not extendable. However, there are indications and murmurings that the government may be intending to extend the term of the current NAB chairman. If that is the case, it deserves some dissection and discussion. Legal observers say the law in this regard is fairly clear and there is no provision of extending the tenure of an incumbent.

The government has already issued dozens of presidential ordinances to bypass the normal parliamentary procedure of enacting laws. If the government amends the relevant NAB rules to extend the tenure of the current NAB chair, it will open itself to accusations of a highly partisan approach that is not in consonance with sound legislative practices. There are a number of considerations here. First, there is no legal way forward except appointing a new chairman or offering a new term to the incumbent through parliamentary legislation. Second, any such enactment will be clearly person-specific. If a new ordinance is promulgated, it will only end up generating even more controversies which in the current political environment will just make matters worse. If new rules are introduced, they could be challenged in court regarding legality. There is definitely a need to revise NAB rules but those revisions should aim at NAB’s powers of arrest or arbitrary references. There has already been much debate over the accountability process, and the failure of NAB to bring forward the evidence it said it had against key. We now need a proper system in place.

Accountability has always been questioned in our country because of the actions taken by political leaders and the rapid manner in which accountability becomes politicised falling into the hands of the party in power. There is a desperate need for consensus and discussion before appointing a person who is considered above board by the majority of persons and, notably, politicians from all sides of the fence. Highest independent bodies such as the ECP and NAB cannot be run on the whims and fancies of governments. The consultation between the government and the opposition should immediately take place to avert an unpleasant situation in the coming days.