The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has drafted a bill, with the help of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), to replace the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) with the National Accountability Commission. The new law is based on the spirit that the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999, under which NAB and accountability courts were set up, was framed by a dictator to punish politicians, and hence it should be abolished. It means the new law aims to provide relief to politicians from the past law.
The role of NAB, under its former head, largely remained ineffective in curbing corruption in Pakistan. It failed to investigate cases decades-old. The NAB chairman’s approval is necessary to investigate and send cases to the accountability courts. The former chairman sat on corruption cases of the Sharifs and former President Asif Ali Zardari and others for decades and facilitated them through weak evidence and prosecution in the accountability courts. The result was that Asif Zardari was exonerated in dozens of corruption cases against him. NAB had also closed all cases against the Sharif family, but the Panama Leaks exposed its role. The Supreme Court of Pakistan called it a dead organization during the Panama case hearing.
According to government ministers and PPP leaders, the National Accountability Ordinance is a draconian law, which was framed by former President General (retd) Pervez Musharraf to harass and punish “innocent” politicians. The question is that if the law was so strict, why did it fail to control corruption in the country? Why did it fail to net the big fish? If the government and the PPP had been serious about purging the country of graft, they would have removed flaws in the law, instead of bringing new legislation. Another question is that if a law, made by a dictator to “witch-hunt” politicians, failed to bring the corrupt to book, how could a law made by politicians to bring relief to themselves produce desired results?
The new draft, made in the light of the Charter of Democracy (CoD), signed between the PML-N and the PPP 11 years ago, is bound to raise serious doubts. Under the agreement, both parties had decided to cover up the corruption of each other’s leaders after coming to power alternately. The PPP government, under former President Asif Zardari, and the PML-N government, under former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, proved it. Former NAB Chairman Qamar Zaman facilitated leaders of both parties. He favoured them with flawed investigations, insubstantial evidence and weak witnesses. The two parties, under a secret deal, dumped cases against each other. When they have drafted a new law on corruption, it means it will suit their purpose.
The new draft bill says: “The National Accountability Commission (NAC) shall comprise a chairperson, deputy chairperson, member (legal) and member (accounts). The chairperson will be a serving judge of the Supreme Court and the deputy chairperson will be a serving judge of a high court. In case a serving judge of the Supreme Court or High Court is not available for appointment as chairperson or deputy chairperson, a retired judge of the Apex Court or High Court may be appointed as chairperson or deputy chairperson. It says the commission’s decisions will be expressed in terms of majority and, in case of equal votes, the chairperson will have a casting vote. The chairperson, deputy chairperson and members will be nominated by the prime minister in consultation with the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, and in case of the chairperson and deputy chairperson, with consent of the nominated judge and with the concurrence of the chief justice and the chief justice of the High Court concerned, respectively. The parliamentary committee shall confirm the nomination in a meeting to be held within 15 days of the receipt of the reference by the committee in accordance with such procedure as may be prescribed. After confirmation by the parliamentary committee chairman, deputy chairman and members shall be appointed by the prime minister for a term of three years each and shall not be eligible for any extension of tenure or for re-appointment.
Under the existing National Accountability Ordinance, the term of the chairperson, deputy chairperson and prosecutor general is four years. The NAC bill says that the chairperson and deputy chairperson will continue to be entitled to the salary and privileges granted to a judge of the Supreme Court and a judge of the High Court. It says the parliamentary committee shall be constituted by the speaker of the National Assembly in consultation with the Senate chairperson, and shall consist of six members from the treasury benches and six from opposition parties in equal number from the Senate and the National Assembly. The committee will make its own rules of procedure, including the manner of electing its chairperson.
According to media reports, the new legislation envisages that all accountability courts will also abolished and corruption cases would be transferred to sessions courts, which would hear them on a daily basis. Cases pending for over 10 years will be quashed. No court, even the Supreme Court of Pakistan, will be able to take up corruption cases after their hearing in sessions courts starts. Contrary to the existing laws, which are prevalent all over the world in corruption cases, the National Accountability Commission (NAC) would have to provide proof of corruption against the accused. Under the new law, loan defaulters could not be prosecuted without a reference by the State Bank of Pakistan governor.
The sessions courts are already overburdened with cases. Millions of cases are pending in the lower courts, where corruption is also rife. Daily hearing of cases will put extra pressure on them. Corruption in the courts means more chances for corrupt people to go scot-free. It appears the PML-N and the PPP have drafted the new law, keeping in view corruption cases against their leaders. If they had been serious about elimination of corruption in the country, flaws in the old legislation could have been eliminated and procedures tightened up.