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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Proposed amendments in NAB Ordinance a desperate measure to kill NAB activism

News Analysis |

The government of Pakistan has proposed amendments to the National Accountability Ordinance (NAB) 1999, only weeks prior to the end of the term. It is an extraordinary move to safeguard the provincial chief minister and legislators.

In an astonishing development, in the new proposed changes, NAB powers in provinces will be curtailed. NAB will be no longer able to operate in provinces and will have no authority to start corruption proceedings in provinces.

Read more| NAB investigates PML-N’s KPK President over corruption

Under the current law, where any evidence of corruption is collected, it can lead to the direct arrest of that individual. The accuser must prove his innocence and provide the details of financial transactions and complete money trail of assets accumulated, to prove it is not earned through embezzlement.

According to this new law proposed, now, NAB will have to prove any accusation pitted against any alleged culprit. The accuser will not be an alleged criminal until his corruption charges are proved.  Detailed transactions and ledgers are required to prove the cases, which takes a long time to gather the evidence, and could prolong the length of cases. Since, ousted PM Nawaz Sharif must prove his innocence in accountability court, which has placed his family in jeopardy. To avoid any such situation in the near future, [presumably for the Pakistan Muslim League-president and Chief Minister of Punjab Shahbaz Sharif], it is an attempt to make NAB completely helpless.

Chairman NAB will no longer have the authority to order the arrest of the alleged criminal. NAB only summons individuals after gathering substantial proofs pertaining to the involvement of the alleged culprits. If it remains unsatisfied with the presented evidence to prove innocence, with the permission of NAB chairman, the officer investigating the case can arrest the accused.

Under the new law, NAB prosecutor cannot be appointed at the behest of NAB chairman, which is a complete contradiction with the current law. President of Pakistan can appoint anyone as Prosecutor General after consultation with the Chairman NAB.

In the past, Pakistan People’s Party also attempted to repeal the law but was unsuccessful. Akin to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), it [PPP] labeled the NAB ordinance as a ‘black law’ enacted by the General retired Pervez Musharraf. PPP along with PML-N had accused the NAB chairman of having enormous powers which could be misused. PML-N is now attempting the same to avoid accountability.

It is ironic that PML-N has voiced concern against the law right at the end of its term. Apparently, under the chairmanship of Qamar Zaman Chaudhry, who was merely a puppet, and refrained from opening any case against the corrupt elements in the government. However, after the appointment of Javed Iqbal as the Chairman of NAB, there has been a surge in NAB’s activity. After he resumed power, he assured that anti-graft watchdog will adopt a robust policy to eradicate corruption from the country.

Read more: Ahsan Iqbal accuses NAB of pre-poll rigging?

NAB has opened cases across the board, against the political parties, and military personnel over their alleged involvement in corruption cases.  The NAB is sticking to its policy of accountability for all, as the country’s prosperity lies in eliminating corruption.

Morally, legally and politically, provincial governments are facing loses. NAB is accused of a witch-hunt and involvement in an agenda merely used to malign the image of the incumbent government officials.

NAB’s actions against the bureaucracy is not a campaign against any particulate party. In fact, these bureaucrats should not indulge in any political affairs and should work autonomously.

After the arrest of Ahad Cheema, and a large-scale inquiry over Fawad Hassan. Fawad has alarmed the Punjab Government and the federal bureaucracy. The politicians are apparently scared of NAB’s renaissance under a new chairman.

Punjab Government’s 56 companies are under investigation. Analysts predict that Ashiana Housing society case might turn out to be the Panama Papers case for Shahbaz Sharif.

Companies working under Shahbaz were accused of violation of meritocracy, and nepotism. Moreover, irregularity in audits and non-transparency of these companies [which worked in direct supervision of CM] made them controversial.

Speculations are rife that knowing the importance of Fawad’s standing in the official circles, it may lead NAB to high profile figures in the government; which may prove an alleged connection between Shahbaz Sharif and high-level bureaucrats.

Significantly, Nawaz is already under scrutiny in Accountability Court and is issuing statements against the whole judicial process. Under these circumstances, the government is facing an unprecedented situation and feels helpless to this remarkable turnaround in its fortunes.

The proposed new ordinance is a desperate measure to kill the NAB activism using presidential powers.