–Major Opp parties want bureau to function under specific time frame, reduce duration of remand in custody
–Proposed amendment suggests parliamentary committee should decide whether to arrest accused lawmaker
ISLAMABAD: The two major opposition parties, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), jointly submitted their recommendations with the Minister for Law Barrister Dr Farogh Nasim for amending the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) law, it emerged on Saturday.
Almost all opposition parties have been criticising the bureau for more than one year over its alleged one-sided accountability. The opposition parties allege that the NAB, created by former military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf in 1999 through an ordinance, has always been used as a tool for carrying out political victimisation of the opponents.
PML-N President and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif — who has been under the NAB custody in connection with investigation into the Ashiana housing scam since Oct 5— had recently alleged on the floor of the house that there was an “unholy alliance” between the PTI and NAB and that the bureau had been active only against the PML-N leaders.
According to sources inside the PPP and PML-N, the joint recommendations are aimed at improving the NAB Act by clipping its powers in a bid to ensure a moderate law for all.
The sources say that both the opposition parties, during their respective tenures, had made successive efforts to transform the anti-corruption watchdog but the efforts could not succeed due to various reasons.
“The PML-N had strongly objected to the amendments proposed by then PPP government in the NAB law, but now we believe that this witch-hunt must come to an end,” a senior PML-N leader said, on the condition of anonymity, adding that both parties have “suffered at hands of the NAB and would not want it to happen against anywhere, even the PTI.”
The PML-N leader confirmed that both the opposition parties had jointly put the following proposals with Dr Farogh Nasim for consideration, adding that both ex-premier Nawaz Sharif and former president Asif Ali Zardari have approved the “package deal”.
“The PTI will have to face embarrassment as they can’t make any constitutional amendment without our support in both the houses of the parliament,” the PML-N leader stated.
It merits mention that the PTI requires a two-third majority in both the houses of the parliament to make a constitutional amendment, which it doesn’t enjoy. Hence, without the support of the opposition, the PTI will not be able to amend the NAB law.
The source said that both the parties had agreed to cut the duration of the remand of any accused in the NAB’s custody from 90 days to 14 days, adding that the government has been proposed that no accused should be arrested before the filing of the reference or court verdict.
“The NAB has been misusing arrests for the ulterior motives and this draconian amendment should be repealed,” the PML-N leader said.
The proposed amendments demand a parliamentary committee to make the decisions, in case the accused is a parliamentarian. Moreover, a special commission should be tasked to first view the evidence against any accused, in case the accused is not a parliamentarian, the proposal says.
If the parliamentary committee/commission is satisfied with the evidence available with the NAB, the accountability bureau may arrest the accused lawmaker or any ordinary person, the proposed amendment suggests, adding that however, if the parliamentary committee/special commission is not satisfied, the NAB should not be allowed to arrest the accused.
The source said that another proposal made by the opposition is that there should be a timeframe for the NAB to conclude any case.
“We have also proposed three sub-clauses of this proposed amendment. There should be specific timelines for the NAB to complete an inquiry, investigation and trial of the accused. This would bring an end to the misuse of NAB law by the watchdog. This could bring an end to political witch-hunt of political leaders and political workers,” the source said.
Asked to elaborate further, the PML-N leader said that the NAB misuses long duration of arrest to break the resolve of an accused to get the desired political results.
When contacted, an official at the law ministry said that the opposition had submitted its proposals to the law minister. “However, final decision would be taken by Prime Minister Imran Khan and the federal cabinet,” the official concluded.
PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb also confirmed that the opposition and government were in talks for amending the NAB law.
“Yes, informal consultation is going on,” she said, adding that only the committee dealing with the proposal knows about the amendments pitched.
It merits a mention that lawmakers from the federal government and the opposition on November 6 held talks on a proposal to review accountability laws and agreed on the need to overhaul the laws to remove apprehensions with a view to making accountability process just and transparent.
The meeting, held at the Parliament House chamber of Law Minister Barrister Farogh Naseem, was attended by leaders from the main opposition PML-N and the PPP, besides Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan of the ruling PTI.
The participants included former National Assembly speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, former deputy speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi and former Punjab home minister Rana Sanaullah Khan from the PML-N, whereas the PPP was represented by Syed Naveed Qamar.
There was no official word on the talks but sources in the opposition parties said it was a second such meeting between the government and opposition over the last few days.
The opposition members claimed that the initiative for the talks on the issue had been taken by the PTI government itself.
“Ministers have told us that bureaucrats are not performing their duties due to the NAB’s activism and the government is facing difficulties in inviting investments in the country due to recent actions of the bureau against politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen,” an opposition member, seeking anonymity, told media after the initial meeting.