Despatch from Lahore | International

New law but old problems

Imran Khan.

Imran Khan.   | Photo Credit: AP

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The Opposition is critical of the changes brought by government in the Accountability Ordinance

The Pakistan government brought about changes to the country’s accountability law — the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999 — through a presidential ordinance promulgated on December 27. Under the new ordinance, the powers of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), an anti-corruption watchdog, were curtailed and its jurisdiction limited.

The NAB has been under severe criticism from the Opposition parties ever since the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government came to power in 2018. Both the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) allege that the cases against their members under the NAB law were politically motivated. PML-N leaders, including Nawaz Sharif, Shehbaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz, have faced action under the NAB. Former President and PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari, too, was remanded in NAB custody in a corruption case last year.

Both parties had demanded changes in the NAB law.

According to the amendment, the NAB will now take up cases involving corruption exceeding an amount of 500 million Pakistani rupees, and no action will be taken against government employees in case of departmental deficiencies. The watchdog is also barred from confiscating property of any public office holder without approval of the scrutiny committee.

The Opposition parties, however, are critical of the changes, saying the new law was promulgated to benefit the leaders of the ruling party.

PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said the law was brought into effect bypassing the entire parliamentary legislative process. “The Opposition is clearly the chief stakeholder in this process. The ordinance is not a reform document but is actually tailored to benefit Imran Khan and his cronies.”

Speaking to The Hindu, Ms. Aurangzeb said not much has changed with the new ordinance. Various provisions such as the remand period, burden of proof resting on the accused, rules on bail, and the trial period remain unchanged. “The observations by the High Courts and the Supreme Court say a lot about the truth regarding these issues but they have not been addressed.”

According to Ms. Aurangzeb, the PML-N started a consultative process for proper reformation of the accountability system in 2016. “But because the PTI had already planned to use the NAB as a tool for political victimisation, it stalled that process.”

Parliament route

The PML-N spokesperson believes that the only logical way to move towards an effective system is to scrap the NAB and formulate a new system of accountability through parliamentary consensus after debate.

“This ordinance benefits only bureaucrats and businessmen; politicians remain the NAB’s target for political coercion, manipulation, and engineering. Prime Minister Imran Khan had said the ordinance would grant insulation to the business community from the scrutiny of the NAB,” she added.

“This ordinance is an NRO for the corruption committed by the PTI,” she said referring to the National Reconciliation Ordinance, which was issued by former dictator General Pervez Musharraf. The NRO, which had granted amnesty to politicians, political workers and bureaucrats who were accused of corruption, was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2009.

Senator Quratulain Marri of the PPP said the NAB law was made with the intention to victimise people. “In principle, we are against the NAB law. It’s a black law.”

On the amendments, Senator Marri said the government has now basically realised what President Zardari said a while back — that the economy and the NAB can’t go together because the NAB is harassing people intending to invest in our economy.

The PTI’s Maleeka Bokhari, however, said the criticism of the Opposition lacks merit or substance. “The PTI government inherited the NAB accountability system and other institutions as part of the governance framework of Pakistan. The NAB Ordinance, 1999 was enacted by previous governments and the Chairman of the NAB was appointed by the Leader of House (PML-N) and the Leader of Opposition (PPP).”

Ms. Bokhari told The Hindu that both these Opposition parties also used the NAB as a tool of political victimisation against each other in the past.

“The PTI government came to power with a long-standing commitment towards eradication of deep-rooted corruption,” added Ms. Bokhari.

(Mehmal Sarfraz is a journalist based in Lahore)

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 2:43:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/new-law-but-old-problems/article30480448.ece

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