Accountability laws and political parties

Ghulam Idris Khan

The ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the other day, said in response to a question about NAB recent inquiry against the Ambassador-designate to the and on the recommendation of placing his name on Exit Control list (ECL), that it is to be seen who is doing all this. Sharif further termed NAB law as “draconian.” The NAB law was made to get desired results in the 2002 election, he said, adding that it was meant “to hound, bully and black mail our candidates pressurizing them to change their loyalties. This was the sole purpose of NAB.” The ousted prime minister said, “This NAB law should have been abolished but the parliament could not work the way it should have been. May be we didn’t feel the need. Such draconian law and other introduced by the martial law regimes should be abolished in one go.”

Looking back at the history of accountability law of the recent past, it was Nawaz Sharif himself, who during his second term as prime minister, passed the Ehtesab Act, 1997.The objective was “an act to eradicate corruption from public office”.

In this act, a provision of chairman of the Ehtesab cell and chief Ehtesab commissioner was provided, but no such qualification and experience were mentioned.

It was said that the chairman of the Ehtesab cell should be a person either holding a full time salary post or part time post with no entitlement  to salary or allowance, whose name is notified here under with the authority to appoint members of the Ehtesab cell.

There is no such difference in Ehtesab Act of 1997 and that of 1999 promulgated when General Pervaz Musharraf was running affairs of the Pakistan as chief executive.

The National Accountability Ordinance 1999 provide for setting up of NAB so as to eradicate corruption and corrupt practices and holding accountable all those person accused of such practices and matters ancillary.

NAB law provides that chairman be appointed by the president in consultation with leader of the house and leader of the opposition in National Assembly for period of four years on such term and condition by the president and shall not be removed except on grounds of removal of judge of Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Charter of Democracy was signed by between Benazir Bhutto of PPP and Nawaz Sharif of PML in London on May 14, 2006.

The documents envisaged in it chapter  B of the code of conduct  that “Truth and Reconciliation commission be established to acknowledge victims of torture, imprisonment, state- sponsored persecution, target legislation and politically motivated accountability.”

It further calls for “Accountability of NAB and other Ehtesab operators to identify and hold accountable abuse office by NAB operators through purgery and perversion of justices and violation of human right since its establishment”, and “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 opposition and confirmed by a joint parliamentary committee with 50 percent members from treasury benches and remaining 50 percent from opposition parties.”

The PPP government moved a draft bill in national assembly in April 2009 to make amendments in the NAB law, so as to replace the National Accountability Bureau with that of commission to fulfill the written commitment given in Charter of Democracy (COD).

The bill was referred to committee of law and justice headed by Begum Nasim Chaudhry. 28 meetings of the committee were held but failed to arrive at a consensus.

PML-N was represented by four members including Zahid Hamid, MNA, the law minister of Pervaiz Musharraf, and Anush Rehman, MNA. PML N declared the government law as “toothless law”. PML-N raised four major objections to it.

PML N objected to the proposal that any person was qualified to be appointed as head, stressing that serving judge should be made chairman.

The second one was to omit the provision of exercising power in good faith.

The third was regarding definition of mutual assistance and international cooperation in dealing with corruption.

The party demanded that the clause as existing in NAB law should be retained in the new bill.

The fourth objection was related to applying the law from 1947, and not from 1985 as proposed by the government in the bill.

The two major parties were unable to make new law for accountability, in accordance with the Charter of Democracy.

The disagreement in parliamentary committee by political class gave smooth sailing to the NAB laws of 1999.

The current of PML-N too has established a parliamentary committee of all the parties in parliament to make amendments or proposed new laws to improve the current NAB laws.

This committee held a numbers of meetings under the chairmanship of the then law minister Zahid Hamid. It was reported in media that the proceeding of the committee was going in the right direction.

On November 1, 2017 news appeared in media that the parliamentary committee on National Accountability law agreed that members of judiciary and military were not to be held accountable under the new proposed accountability law, as per law minister Zahid Hamid.

The existing National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999, promulgated by General Pervaiz Musharraf, brings public office holder, civil servants, and politicians under the ambit of the law, but exempted armed forces personnel as well as judges of the superior courts.

Member of the committee Senator Farhatullah Babar of the PPP, who had presented the proposal regarding the inclusion of judges and general in the definition of term public office holder, said that both the parties blocked the smooth passage of legislation that tried to bring “sacred cows” under the ambit of accountability laws.

The new proposed law as yet is not moved in parliament by the government.

The major political parties were observing and watching the NAB activities grilling opponents.

When NAB was active and targeting PPP in Sindh, PML-N was comfortable, as in Punjab, NAB was dormant.

A close friend of Asif Ali Zardari, Dr Asim Hussain was picked up from his government office by Rangers  in Karachi on the charge of facilitating terrorist by providing medical aid in Ziauddin Hospital in Karachi; he was later on booked by NAP on corruption charges.

Same tactics were applied on Sharjeel Memon, former Sindh minister and sitting member of Sindh Assembly. NAB activities in Sindh were stretched up to tehsil level.

The Sindh government was so frustrated that they passed bill from Sindh Assembly to scrap NAB jurisdiction from there. However the Sindh High Court struck down the law.

PTI government in KP established Ehtesab Commission.

A retired lieutenant General was appointed its director general.

When the commission was working and arrested its political opponents particularly of the CM KP, the government of KP and PTI chairman were praising the Ehtesab Commission and its DG performance, but when it start probing against the near and dear ones of CM, suddenly DG was removed from the position .

The NAB Lahore has summoned CM Punjab over involvement in housing scheme.

After the appearance of Shahbaz Sharif, he said that the entire investigation practice was mockery and political agenda of victimization and revenge.

Nawaz Sharif is correct to say that Musharraf used the NAB law as an instrument to make “Q” League and   Zafarullah Jamali government with the majority of single vote. For that, a group of PPP MNAs were converted in to PPP patriot.

The major political parties were the victim of these NAB law.

When there were chances with them to repeal this draconian law, as in 2009 and later in 2013-14, PML-N set that aside. PML-N is to be blamed more for this state of affairs.

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