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EDITORIAL: Chairman National Accountability Bureau (NAB) former Justice Javed Iqbal completes his four-year constitutional term next month, triggering an intense national debate as to who would be his successor. Or, would there be a successor or would he continue by way of grant of extension or reappointment through an appropriate amendment in the law? Even though Prime Minister Imran Khan has yet to speak his mind on it there are ample indications that the government would like this former Supreme Court of Pakistan judge to retain his position as chairman of the NAB. The political opposition and a big segment of legal fraternity, however, seek his permanent retirement. And given juridical ambiguity regarding the mechanism of how to go about it, we see a storm over the horizon, threatening to deepen polarization. As a constitutional dictate, the prime minister is expected to consult the Leader of Opposition in National Assembly, Shehbaz Sharif, as was the case with the appointment of the present chairman when the then prime minister consulted the then Leader of Opposition. But no such contact has been made with Shehbaz Sharif so far because, according to Law Minister Farogh Naseem, the opposition leader is facing as many as three NAB cases himself. Seeking Shehbaz’s acquiescence would, therefore, be a clear case of conflict of interest, an erudite law minister said and added in the same breath: “Should there be a NAB case against Prime Minister Imran Khan seeking his acquiescence would be an identical case of conflict of interest”. But many argue that Shehbaz Sharif is not a convict; he is only facing cases which have yet to be decided. Moreover, nowhere does the National Accountability Ordinance say that an under-trial opposition leader is not qualified or competent enough to be consulted by the prime minister.

According to an anecdotal survey conducted by this newspaper recently, legal experts are of the view that issuance of an ordinance to amend the law would violate the National Accountability Ordinance 1999 as it would create a crisis about the appointment of chairman NAB because it would be in violation of Supreme Court judgements regarding legislation meant to benefit a specific person. The second course the government may adopt is to remove the word “non-extendable” from Section 6 of National Accountability Ordinance – that too would be in violation of the Supreme Court’s judgements for the same reason. The law ministry is also considering the option of reappointing former Justice Javed Iqbal as the NAB chairman, either through a new legislation or by amending the existing law. “It won’t be person-specific as any from all former chairmen (including the incumbent) can benefit from this as he would become eligible again,” according to the minister. That the minister is doing things in an intelligent and well-planned way is a fact. It is, therefore, quite possible that the incumbent government will reappoint former Justice Javed Iqbal or give him an extension to the chagrin of political opposition that has been consistently claiming that the National Accountability Bureau under its present incumbent is not impartial.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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