Divided on accountability

Having failed to evolve a consensus on devising a new accountability mechanism, political parties in opposition have initiated the discussion with renewed vigour

Divided on accountability

Most political parties in the country are in favour of introducing amendments to the NAB law. Nevertheless, in the last ten years of democratic governance, these parties had been unable to come up with mutually agreed changes, and let the status quo prevail.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led coalition government tried to repeal the NAB law in 2009 and later in 2013-14. Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) did not cooperate each time.

The PPP government claimed in 2009 that the proposed amendments were not only meant to revise the NAB law introduced by former dictator General Pervez Musharraf under the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999 but also to fulfill the demands of Charter of Democracy (COD). COD was signed by former Prime Ministers: Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif in London on May 14, 2006.

The charter states, "Truth and Reconciliation Commission be established to replace politically motivated NAB with an independent accountability commission, whose chairman shall be nominated by the prime minister in consultation with the leader of the Opposition and confirmed by a joint parliamentary committee with 50 per cent members from treasury benches and remaining 50 per cent from the opposition parties."

The bill about the NAB law was referred to the Committee of Law and Justice in 2009 headed by PPP MNA Begum Nasim Chaudhry. 28 consultations of the committee were held but failed to attain consensus.

"PPP always wanted to revise the draconian NAB law. General Pervez Musharraf used it for witch-hunting and it could be manoeuvered by any government," says Qamar Zaman Kaira, former federal minister and senior PPP leader.

"The NAB law is irrational; there is a combination of use and abuse of law which must be amended to stop exploitation. In the past, the PML-N did not cooperate thinking that the PPP wanted benefits for itself," says Kaira.

In 2016, the PML-N government started a debate to amend the NAB law. A parliamentary committee was formed to come up with suggested amendments. PML-N and PPP agreed to form a National Accountability Commission to replace NAB. Both the parties agreed on 53 out of 55 clauses for formation of the new commission. However, the parliamentary committee couldn’t formulate the final draft because Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) didn’t agree with the suggested clauses aside.

While talking to TNS, Amir Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Siraj ul Haq, thinks the amendments PML-N wanted to introduce were not transparent. "JI does consider that NAB law needs to be transparent. NAB must not be used to insult people and should not be allowed to detain anyone until they are proved guilty."

"The NAB law is irrational; there is a combination of use and abuse of law which must be amended to stop exploitation. In the past, the PML-N did not cooperate thinking that the PPP wanted benefits for itself," says Kaira.

Haq complains about NAB’s selective accountability, "We believe NAB has not pursued those involved in damaging the country financially. People involved in mega scandals are still free. NAB has so far spent more than it has recovered. Its balance sheet must be made public so that everyone can see what NAB has accomplished so far."

He points to the term "good faith" in the NAB law, "the provision of exercising power in good faith should be omitted. This so-called term ‘good faith’ is being manipulated by the government and NAB itself. There should be a provision in the law to file a civil suit against the institution if anyone is proved innocent after having been publicly slandered by the authority."

"The existing legal structure of NAB is biased and can be manoeuvered, on the basis of their likes and dislikes. The PTI leaders are enjoying their lives despite the references filed against them in NAB courts. Ironically, Shahbaz Sharif was arrested without presenting any proof against him," says Pervaiz Malik, senior PML-N leader and MNA.

"Political parties committed a mistake by not seriously attempting to amend accountability law in time. That is why the dictator’s model of NAB is being utilised to defame respected politicians," says Malik.

In the last few years, two provincial governments have tried to introduce their own anti-corruption law and justified it under the 18th Amendment which allows provinces to make special anti-corruption law. The PTI government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa introduced Ehtesab Commission law under the Ehtesab (KPEC) Act 2014. In 2015, the Peshawar High Court (PHC) dismissed 15 petitions filed against KPEC Act and declared it a valid piece of legislation. However, the current PTI government in KPK has decided to disband Ehtesab Commission by showing discontentment on its performance. In 2017, the Sindh government introduced "Sindh Anti-Corruption Agency Act." However, in August 2017, the Sindh High Court (SHC) struck down the law.

At the time of former Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif’s conviction by the accountability court, PTI chairman, Imran Khan, termed the act a "historical decision" but expressed lack of trust in NAB after an accountability court acquitted former president Asif Ali Zardari in a corruption case in August 2017; the last of twelve corruption cases filed against him.

On August 29 this year, Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed satisfaction on NAB’s performance, a change from his prior views, while meeting with Chairman Justice (r) Javed Iqbal. He also pledged to assure his government’s full support to NAB to eradicate corruption and promote transparency.

PTI’s federal and provincial ministers have applauded the recent arrest of the Opposition leader in the National Assembly and the president of PML-N, Mian Shahbaz Sharif in Ashiyana Iqbal housing scam. Besides, they hope that NAB would not hesitate in arresting more people.

Read also: Law and its application

The meeting of prime minister with Chairman NAB and the stance of PTI’s minister on the arrest of Shahbaz Sharif are strongly criticised by the opposition parties.

The federal government has now constituted a committee under Federal Minister of Law & Justice, Farogh Naseem to revise the existing legal framework of NAB. The committee has asked NAB, the ministry of law, interior ministry and other concerned departments to submit their suggestions.

Qamar Zaman Kaira is not convinced about the government’s initiative of constituting a committee to revise the NAB law. "The current political atmosphere is not conducive to introducing amendments to NAB law, considering PTI’s approach and aggressiveness."

Divided on accountability