Saturday July 02, 2022

Govt, opposition lock horns over NAB law in Senate

Exchange of hot words and slogan-chanting marred the Senate proceedings, as the budget debate continued for several hours after the opposition was given time to speak on the NAB law-related changes

June 22, 2022
The inside view of the Senate of Pakistan. File photo
The inside view of the Senate of Pakistan. File photo

ISLAMABAD: The government in the Senate on Tuesday denied having secured relief under the amendments to the NAB law, as the opposition continued its protest against what it termed controversial amendments to legitimising corruption.

Leader of the House Azam Nazeer Tarar, who is also the law minister, and ex-law minister and former Senate chairman Farooq H Naek brushed aside the opposition’s allegations as baseless and insisted that the government also wanted combating corruption but no more use of NAB law for political engineering and witch-hunting.

After getting the chair’s go-ahead at the very outset after PTI senators pleaded to be allowed to vent their anger at the amendments, the opposition members came down hard on Planning and Development Minister Ahsan Iqbal of the PMLN for his remarks that corruption did not impede economic development.

Exchange of hot words and slogan-chanting marred the House proceedings, as the budget debate continued for several hours after the opposition was given time to speak on the NAB law-related changes.

Ex-minister and PTI Senator Shibli Faraz was the first to speak. He alleged that the present government had come into power through a conspiracy to give NRO-2 to itself, adding that NAB and election amendment bills had been passed in an indecent haste. He pointed out that both laws had been amended with an intent to protect corruption, as they (rulers) had settled their cases by enacting what he called an immoral law. The PTI lawmaker wondered how there would be any accountability when the anti-graft watchdog had been made subservient to the Interior Ministry. He said that under Section 25-D of the NAB Amendment Act, if one of the accomplices entered a plea bargain deal, it would not be used against other witnesses and accomplices.

“It is a classic example of becoming judge in own cause," he said noting that the amendments had a direct link with a recent corruption case against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. "Moreover, the government is putting the future of posterity at stake to protect personal interests, as is for the defendants to justify assets beyond means, but the controversial amendment reversed it and placed the onus of proof on the prosecution,” he said, adding that this all was being done to quash cases of corruption to the tune of Rs1,100-1,200 billion.

Another PTI lawmaker Ejaz Chaudhry claimed that the prime minister and 60 per cent of his cabinet members were involved in various cases and that an accused could not become a judge in a case against him. He pointed out that under Section 14, the definition of assets had been changed and now nobody would be answerable for assets amassed in the name of family members. He contended that the amendments would help the PPP and PMLN leaders to get relief in corruption cases while civilians and bureaucrats would be the beneficiaries of these amendments too.

Farooq H Naek said the NAB law was used for political engineering and victimisation of politicians, including his party leaders in the past. He rejected the criticism of the opposition on the deletion of Section 14 in the NAB law and explained that a Supreme Court judgment said that prosecution had to prove the case and not the accused. He agreed that some controversial provisions including the powers of NAB chairman had been repealed.

Azam Nazeer Tarar insisted that there should be no politics on this matter and that the accountability process should not be at the cost of human rights and the economy, accusing the PTI government of destroying the economy and failing to prove a single case against its rivals during its four-year rule, as these were all fabricated ones.

Former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani proposed during his budget speech the formation of parliamentary committees on intelligence in both the Houses to bring the country’s intelligence apparatus under parliamentary oversight. He remarked: "Keeping in view the parliamentary oversight, I propose that the committees on intelligence be created as such committees exist in many countries while the parliamentary committee on defence should discuss the defence budget to bring it under its review gradually."

He regretted that Pakistan’s financial and economic sovereignty had been sold out to international financial imperialistic institutions. “It is regretful that Pakistan’s budget is not formed in the country, rather its targets are decided by international financial institutions. The government should not take dictation from the IMF or the World Bank and the parliament being a sovereign institution should take decisions on budget,” he said.

Rabbani had a piece of advice for the coalition government, of which his party is also a component. He urged the government to renegotiate the agreement signed by the PTI government in 2018 under new terms and conditions, as a lot of water had flown under the bridge with new realities emerging both in internal and world economies. He pointed out that the terms were very strict in the subsequent agreements signed after it. He said the IMF condition to maintain one federal account with the central bank should be revisited as international financial institutions wanted to keep the country’s national security institutions under their oversight.

Addressing the law minister, he said the government should withdraw the SBP (State Bank of Pakistan) Amendment Act 2002 by asking the parliament to repeal it. “The cartels must be eliminated (to bring down the prices of commodities) and the related body must enforce its law,” he said and claimed that there had been so much talk on buying Russian oil, but this was in disregard to facts, as no MoU was signed with Moscow and their ambassador also said that there was nothing formalised in this connection. He revealed that there was no major refinery in the country to refine the Russian oil and upgrade it for local consumption.