EDITORIAL: For the second time President Arif Alvi on Monday returned unsigned the bill regarding amendments to the National Accountability Ordinance, approved by joint sitting of Parliament, saying the bill is “regressive in nature and it would promote corruption by ensuring that the long arm of the law is crippled.
” It also sends a message, he averred, to the corrupt who have amassed tremendous wealth, and about which there is no doubt in the minds of the people of Pakistan that they are not accountable and are free to continue to plunder [national wealth]. The coalition government leaders have accused the President of acting in a partisan manner. And as expected, former prime minister Imran Khan harshly criticised the amendments in a series of tweets starting by declaring “today is a black day in the country’s history as the imported government of crooks amended NAB law has taken effect, ending accountability of white collar criminals.”
There is no denying that most of the amendments are akin to those made by the PTI government in the NAB law through ordinances that lapsed because they were not ratified by parliament but there are some amendments that appear to benefit certain high profile personages facing proceedings in accountability courts.
Nonetheless, it needs to be acknowledged that any legislation that is made with a certain situation or case or personality in mind is inherently a bad law. It was introduced by military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf to punish elected politicians who had been in government before him and excluded those that were in the government of Gen. Ziaul Haq.
It was also used to pressurise members of the PML-N and the PPP to walk out of their political parties and join or coalesce with the PML-Q that was formed as the ‘king’s party’ to perpetuate the general’s rule. The fact though is also that the two civilian governments which succeed him did not do away with his mala fide construct.
The PPP government tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to water down the NAB law but only to the extent of providing relief to some of its own. It is worth noting that more than 90 percent cases of alleged corruption involving holders of high public office were initiated by the PPP and PML-N governments against each other.
They were okay with NAB as long as it served as their handmaiden, increasing or decreasing heat on the other side as and when required, with the result that the purported accountability watchdog has little to show as proof of its raison d’être. As per the NAB law, any inquiry and investigation has to be completed expeditiously, but not exceeding a period of 75 days, or earlier. Many of the cases have lingered on for several years.
It was only when the PTI started to seriously pursue those and some other cases that the two major opposition parties joined hands to do something about it. Although after the present amendments NAB has become a toothless body, it is still being used to harass the present opposition. Several members of the PTI government, including former Punjab chief minister Usman Buzdar, have been booked for allegedly committing corruption.
In its present form, the NAB is not any different from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). There is no point in retaining it. As a matter of fact, in no other functioning democracy is there such an anti-corruption watchdog. It should be closed down. The FIA can do a better job, provided it is free of political pressure. That though seems like a pie in the sky in the present atmosphere.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022