Since its inception, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has been mired in one controversy after another. Opposition parties have strongly believed that it was being used as a political tool to victimize them. In recent years, it has been repeatedly criticized in the observations and judgments of the higher judiciary. The compilation of all these statements would result in a scathing public indictment of an institution created with the noble aim of eradicating corruption from the country’s politics. Most of these observations and judgments emerged as the NAB scrutinized the political rivals of the former PTI government.
Recently, the National Accountability (Second Amendment) Bill, 2022″ was once again passed by the joint session of Parliament on Thursday, with some amendments aimed at ending the misuse of law for political engineering and victimization of opponents. Even though, the bill was passed by the National Assembly and the Senate of Pakistan, last month. After which it was sent to President Alvi, as his assent was required for them to become law. However, the President decided to return the bill, mentioning how it clearly violated Article 46 of the Constitution, according to which the prime minister “shall keep the president informed on all matters of internal and foreign policy and on all legislative proposals the federal government intends to bring before Majlis-i-Shoora (parliament).”
Understanding the matter better
The objection is that the law was passed in a matter of minutes without any deliberation or discussion with the Head of the State. It was also noted that the amendment shifts the burden of proof on the prosecution and makes the accountability watchdog’s laws similar to the Code of Criminal Procedure. Making it impossible for prosecutors to prove cases of corruption and abuse of office by state officials. The bill is now expected to be presented before the President once again for his assent. And if he does not give his approval within 10 days, it would be deemed to have been given.
Though some amendments are an improvement with respect to the previous law such as the right to bail and the decriminalization of erroneous executive decisions without strong evidence of corruption. However, at the same time the law has been changed for the benefit of those against whom lawsuits are pending in the superior courts, guaranteeing their acquittal. Making this an evident case involving conflict of interest. For instance, the definition of “asset” has been changed to a great extent. The 1999 Ordinance classified “assets” as belonging to the defendant, including his spouse, relatives, or associates. Whereas the newly amended bill has removed “spouses, relatives, associates” from its description.
It says that having assets beyond means is no longer an offense
And what is more alarming is the fact that federal and provincial tax issues and decisions of regulatory bodies have been removed from NAB’s purview. Interestingly, the amendments passed by Parliament have addressed almost every point criticized either by the courts or by victims of the National Accountability Ordinance 1999. Former Prime Minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan has also called the amendments to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Ordinance by the federal government an NRO (a term used to describe legal compromises for the sake of political reconciliation) by modifying the NAB. Giving weightage to the apprehension that the main objective behind the no-confidence move was to get an NRO.
Imran Khan suggested that the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) must take suo moto notice to ensure a fair trial by appointing a monitoring judge to oversee all mega cases of politicians. And recently, the apex court observed that it would examine changes being made to the National Accountability Ordinance 1999 by the federal government as it could not overlook the efforts to “minimize the role” of the accountability watchdog. Justice Ijazul Ahsan told the accountability bureau to share a complete record of high-profile cases with the top court at their very earliest. Although the updated NAB Bill passed by the Parliament is still awaiting the formal assent of the President of Pakistan, it is only a matter of time before it officially becomes law.
What remains to be examined is whether the National Accountability Bureau will revert back to its previous mechanisms of being used as a tool for seeking revenge from political opponents. Or will it be able to live up to its expectations, with respect to ensuring impartiality and fairness in its accountability drive across the board? Above all, let us hope that transparency wins over personal vendetta, as the battle for eliminating corruption continues.
The writer is an Advocate of the High Courts of Pakistan and an Executive Member of the International Bar Association. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.