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ISLAMABAD: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB), on Thursday, informed the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that Prime Minister Imran Khan had ‘barred’ the NAB Chairman former Justice Javed Iqbal from appearing before the parliamentary committees, including the PAC.

An in-camera session of the PAC was scheduled for Thursday under the chairmanship of Rana Tanveer Hussain, which the Chairman NAB former Justice Javed Iqbal skipped.

The DG NAB presented a letter to the PAC, which showed approval from Prime Minister Imran Khan regarding the representation of the chairman NAB by his director-general. However, a member of the committee said that if the approval was accorded by the prime minister then it should have been conveyed via Cabinet Division rather than coming directly from a NAB official. The PAC decided to write a letter to the chairman NAB to summon him to the committee’s proceedings.

“We have to postpone the meeting owing to the absence of former Justice Javed Iqbal,” said PAC chairman, adding that they had convened an in-camera session of the PAC at the request of the chairman.

The reason for Iqbal’s absence was revealed in a letter written by the NAB to the secretary of the assembly, which stated that PM Khan had approved “that the director general would represent chairman NAB in his capacity of principal accounting officer, before the Parliamentary Committees, including the PAC, Constitutional and Statutory Bodies”.

The letter maintained that the decision was made “in view of the statutory functions and responsibilities of the chairman NAB”. Principal accounting officers were barred from appearing before constitutional bodies and autonomous bodies.

PAC Chairman Rana Tanveer stated that he would write a letter to the Cabinet Division to verify the NAB’s letter. He added that if the rules give the premier the power to choose the DG as a representative in place of the chairman then the committee will accept the letter.

Tanveer further said that the position of the chief justice of the Supreme Court was different from that of the NAB chairman, claiming that the latter should be held accountable.

“If the government does not hold him accountable, there will be abuse of law. The money spent by the NAB chairman during his tenure will have to be accounted for,” he added.

The PAC chairman said that the cabinet secretary should have informed him by telephone and in writing whether the notification has been made in accordance with the law, and not because they are dear to the prime minister. He stated that they would have to observe what the law says, adding that the government should keep in mind that this would have far-reaching impacts.

Member National Assembly Noor Alam Khan - who is a member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf - in conversation with the media said that the meeting was convened on the request of the NAB chairman, who had claimed that he would be present, and had even picked the date for the meeting himself.

He claimed that it was wrong to involve the premier, because if the letter was from PM Imran Khan then it would have come from his secretariat or the Cabinet Division.

“NAB cannot write letters to the National Assembly,” he said. Pakistan Peoples Party Senator Sherry Rehman said that the NAB chairman had himself last week asked the PAC to hold an in-camera meeting, where he said he would present the recovery figures himself.

“This was a sensitive matter and all of us abandoned our work to come to this meeting because our party also highlighted the meeting’s importance,” she said. The senator maintained that the meeting was set according to the NAB chairman’s request, on his chosen date, and was in-camera because he had requested it to be.

“We received a letter overnight regarding this decision,” she told the media. Taking to Twitter, Sherry Rehman added that “all members across the board with consensus found this unacceptable and advised the Chair PAC to terminate the meeting”.

She further stated that “no one is above the law”. PPP MNA Naveed Qamar also claimed that the NAB chairman did not want to be held accountable by parliamentary leaders, rather wanted them to be accountable before him.

“The federal cabinet does not have the power to bar the NAB chairman from attending the PAC,” he added.

“This will set a dangerous precedent, as now every secretary can say that they are busy and instead of showing up to fulfill their role, they can designate their role to the joint secretary and absolve themselves from accountability,” Qamar warned. He said that the NAB ordinance needs to be changed, if the bureau’s chairman is unable to make decisions.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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