ISLAMABAD: Already unhappy with the appointment of Admiral (retd) Fasih Bokhari as the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman, the PML-N resolved not to give an inch on its stand that the government bring its long-delayed bill seeking replacement of NAB with a powerful independent commission to parliament for voting, Dawn has learnt.
The government has been blaming the delay in presentation of the Holder of Public Offices (Accountability) Bill 2009 on dissenting notes submitted by four PML-N members during meetings of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs which had been holding the bill for the past 30 months.
On the other hand, PML-N members have been blaming the “non-serious” attitude of the government for the delay, citing the absence of the federal minister and other officials concerned from most of the committee’s meetings.
The PML-N’s member of the committee Anusha Rehman, however, told Dawn on Wednesday that the party members would neither withdraw their dissenting notes nor would press the government to make them part of the bill when the committee would take it up again on Oct 27.
Instead, she said, they would ask the government to present the bill in its present form before the house for a vote.
“The government wants us to withdraw our dissenting notes in an effort to make it a consensus document. We are not saying to the government to agree on our points. We will ask the government to put it for voting in the assembly without caring for our dissenting notes,” Ms Rehman said, adding, the party wanted the Oct 27 meeting to be the last.
The PML-N member said her party had already shown maximum flexibility on the bill and now it did not want to provide any more excuses to the government to delay this important and much-needed law.
The National Assembly Standing Committee on Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, headed by PPP’s Nasim Akhtar Chaudhry, in one of its meetings in October last year, had agreed to the PML-N’s suggestion that the new law would be applicable to the “past and present” holders of public offices notwithstanding the earlier agreed proposal that the crimes committed before 1985 would be exempt from accountability.
The PML-N members had submitted dissenting notes on the clause of the earlier approved draft bill, suggesting that the NAC could not carry out investigations into any crime committed before 1985.
The PML-N had proposed that the commission be allowed to pursue cases dating back to 1947.
The other contentious points which still need to be resolved by the committee are the PML-N’s objections to the eligibility for appointing the head of the proposed NAC, “immunity” proposed for a holder of public office for any wrongdoing committed in “good faith” and repeal of the clause allowing the government to ask foreign countries to freeze accounts and assets of a person involved in any corruption case.
The PML-N has been insisting that the head of NAC should compulsorily be a sitting judge of the Supreme Court whereas the draft of the law suggests that the office can be held “either by a sitting judge, or a retired judge or any person qualified to be a judge of the Supreme Court”.
After deliberating for one full year, the committee had on April 14 last year approved the draft of the bill despite the opposition’s protest, but the government later decided to defer its presentation before the parliament till achieving a consensus on its draft.
In a major development, the members have already agreed to remove the immunity so far enjoyed by armed forces and judicial and parliamentary figures by defining public office as given in Article 260 of the Constitution.
Even Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the NA and chairman and deputy chairman of Senate – who have been excluded from the public office holders in Article 260 -- have been made accountable through a clause of the proposed law.
Once the new law is approved, all assets and employees of NAB will be transferred to the proposed NAC. All cases being pursued by NAB will also be transferred to NAC immediately after its approval.
The former federal minister for parliamentary affairs, Babar Awan, had tabled “the Holder of Public Office (Accountability) Act 2009 (the name changed to NAC Act 2010) in the NA on April 15, 2009, in the light of the first speech made by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on the floor of the NA after his election on March 29, 2008, in which he had promised to disband NAB and create an independent accountability commission as envisaged in the Charter of Democracy.
After its introduction in the NA, the PML-N raised a number of objections to the language and provisions given in the original draft and refused to accept it. Later the prime minister announced that the government would bring the accountability bill before parliament only after taking all the parties, including the PML-N, into confidence.