Consultation over new NAB chief lands govt in a quandary
ISLAMABAD – Faisal Azfar Alvi: Confusion prevailed in government ranks over the issue of consultation with Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif on the appointment of the next National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman as three cabinet members issued conflicting statements on the matter.
Hours after Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told mediapersons during his post-cabinet meeting press conference that it had been decided that Prime Minister Imran Khan would not consult Shehbaz Sharif on the appointment of the new chief of the anti-graft watchdog and an ordinance would be promulgated on Wednesday (today) to allow incumbent NAB Chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal to continue in office till his successor was appointed, Law Minister Farogh Naseem announced in a television show that Prime Minister Khan would consult the opposition leader on the matter.
“Although there is a conflict of interest if Shehbaz Sharif, who is facing NAB cases, holds consultation, it’s up to him now whether he thinks he should consult the prime minister or not on the matter,” the law minister said.
He said earlier it was suggested that Mr Sharif should not be consulted, but later the government felt that the opposition would term it one-sided if he (Mr Sharif) was not allowed to hold consultations.
The minister said the name of Javed Iqbal was also being considered as the new chairman of the bureau.
He said under the new ordinance, trial courts (accountability courts) would be empowered to grant or reject bails.
Earlier, a high-level meeting, presided over by Law Minister Farogh Naseem, was held on Tuesday which deliberated on amending the National Accountability Ordinance-1999 (NAO) through an ordinance to allow incumbent NAB Chairman Javed Iqbal to continue serving in his position till the new chief of the bureau took over.
Meanwhile, Fawad Chaudhry told mediapersons that the cabinet had asked the opposition to change its Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly (Shehbaz Sharif) as he was involved in multiple corruption cases so that a new one could hold consultations with the prime minister to fulfill the constitutional requirement.
In case they fail to change the opposition leader, he said, the matter of appointing the new chairman would be referred to a parliamentary committee comprising legislators from both sides of the aisle.
“It is just as if a thief selects his own investigating officer,” said the information minister.
“We are clear that we will not consult him (Shehbaz) on the NAB chairman’s appointment and tomorrow, we will introduce an ordinance that will remove this lacuna [of the government being bound to consult the opposition leader],” Mr Chaudhry said.
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The prime minister had already assigned the task to National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser to engage with the opposition leaders and invite them to discuss proposed amendments to the NAB ordinance.
Talking to Dawn, former prosecutor general accountability Irfan Qadir said: “Under the NAO no extension can be given to the chairman and prosecutor general accountability (PAG) once their tenures end and they can be removed from their positions on the grounds similar to the removal of the Supreme Court judges.”
“But even in that case, the cases of the NAB chairman and PGA cannot be sent to the Supreme Judicial Council, the forum which decides judges’ removal,” he added.
Mr Qadir said he completed his three years term in 2006 and, after the next Prosecutor General Accountability Danishwar Malik, he was again appointed the PGA in 2010, but the Supreme Court dismissed his appointment and termed it “extension” of his job.
Fawad Chaudhry said in the new ordinance, accountability courts would be strengthened for speedy trial of corruption cases.
“After which day-to-day hearing of corruption cases will be held,” he added.
On the other hand, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Dr Babar Awan told Dawn that the prime minister had reiterated in the cabinet meeting that he would not consult with Shehbaz Sharif as he was facing three corruption cases.
“One of his (Shehbaz) cases is almost ripe and nearing a verdict, second is under trial and the third one is being probed,” Dr Awan said.
“The provision of consultation with the opposition leader has been kept intact in the new ordinance, but not with Shehbaz Sharif because of doctrine of conflict of interest,” he added.
Dr Awan said soon after the promulgation of the ordinance, the government would lay it in the form of a bill in the next session of the National Assembly.
“This will be the second attempt of the prime minister to amend controversial NAB laws; the first one was bulldozed by the opposition in the Senate, but now the opposition should act sagaciously and help pass the bill from the two houses of the parliament,” he said.
The prime minister’s aide said Shehbaz Sharif should show grace and step down from the office of leader of the opposition just like he had ceded the office of Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairman to another leader of his party — Rana Tanvir. “NAB laws should not be sacrificed for the whims of Shehbaz Sharif and his family,” he added.
The four-year tenure of the incumbent NAB chairman, retired Justice Javed Iqbal, is set to end in the second week of the current month.
He had taken over the charge of his office on Oct 10, 2017.
Mr Iqbal was appointed NAB chairman after the then PML-N government led by former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and the leader of the opposition at that time, Syed Khurshid Shah, reached a consensus.
In a related development, NAB deputy chairman Hussain Asghar tendered his resignation on Monday. But it has not been officially announced by the bureau.