EDITORIAL: NAB (National Accountability Bureau) Chairman former Justice Javed Iqbal didn’t exactly dodge the spotlight by not appearing before the PAC (Public Accounts Committee), on the orders of Prime Minister Imran Khan of course, rather he’s likely to end up squarely under it because of this extraordinary step. This is all very strange, not the least because Thursday’s session in camera was requested by the chairman himself. And if, according to the letter produced before the PAC by DG (Director General) NAB, this decision was made “in view of the statutory functions and responsibilities of the chairman NAB”, how is it that these limitations were not known to the chairman when setting the meeting? Also, why wasn’t the PM’s decision conveyed to PAC via the cabinet division and was the manner in which it was done - have the DG show up with the letter at the meeting instead of the chairman - also meant to convey some sort of message?
Surely, the PM realises that such things can and do have far-reaching consequences. Why shouldn’t the NAB chairman answer about the recovery and use of funds before the PAC, after all, because at the heart of the matter is the issue of parliamentary oversight, which is the essence of representative government. Such posturing also amounts to a very clear departure from Imran Khan’s sermons and pledges from the past about introducing Westminster-style parliamentary democracy in Pakistan. Over the last three years he’s distanced himself from parliament to the extent that his rare visits there make for Breaking News on prime time TV; and now barring the NAB chairman from appearing before “parliamentary committees, including the PAC, constitutional and statutory bodies” he’s also giving the impression that he does not want the national accountability watchdog to be answerable before the house.
The PM could not have really believed that this letter would be the end of the matter. For, not only is the PAC having none of it and has written to Justice Iqbal (retired) again to appear before it in person and present recovery figures himself, but there are also fears of this episode setting an unhealthy precedent that others in sensitive positions can leverage to avoid accountability when it suits them. There should, in fact, be a comprehensive debate about restoring the primacy of parliament, which politicians themselves are guilty of diluting. Yet it’s difficult to see how something even this important can be done anytime soon because, as things stand, it is the sitting government that is subverting democratic institutions and the opposition, quite naturally, would want to attack it instead of going out of its way for the greater good.
Even PTI MNAs were caught off-guard by the NAB chairman’s no-show, arguing that the letter, at the very least, should have come from the cabinet because the Bureau has no business writing to the national assembly. And so the political horizon has become even murkier. Now, even as the government continues hounding the opposition for its alleged corruption, the latter, too, will fire back at PTI for using NAB for its own “dirty work” and then protecting it from parliamentary scrutiny.
Whichever way you look at it, this was a needless, controversial step by the cabinet. NAB must be held accountable and its chairman must show up before parliamentary committees when he’s invited or summoned; especially when he sets the date and time himself. Hopefully, the reaction that this move forced out of everybody caused a somersault by the chairman NAB who wrote to the committee confirming his attendance at the committee meeting to be scheduled again. However, this should be cause for some soul-searching and rethinking within the cabinet. If the PM and NAB chairman are indeed right about unbiased accountability and recoveries made, then nobody should have any problem submitting all facts and figures to the PAC. But the fact that they do have an issue with it is troubling. NAB has become controversial enough as it is, with even the honourable Supreme Court taking note of its seemingly “engineered” accountability drive on occasion. And it’s the government’s responsibility to restore its reputation, not compromise it further.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022