ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly will meet on Monday to begin the last winter of its life, which could hot up inside the chamber by outside developments and if major parties fail to agree on two key legislations the government wants to rush through parliament.
A new accountability bill and another to authorise the use of modern techniques to investigate crimes like terrorism will likely form the session’s most important legislative business, which was introduced in the last session of the house last month but which had to be put off to allow time to a house standing committee to vet the two drafts and try for a consensus sought by the PPP-led coalition government with the opposition.
But early sittings of the session, beginning at 5pm, are likely to see some wordy duels over what happened outside the house during its 26-day recess such as a Supreme Court ruling for investigating alleged distribution of money by state agencies among opposition politicians to encourage them to coalesce into a right-wing alliance to defeat PPP in the 1990 election, a perceived military-judiciary standoff, and a fresh outbreak of violence in Karachi.
A meeting of the bipartisan house business advisory committee an hour before the Monday sitting is likely to fix the duration of the session, which could be followed by more sessions during what will be last winter of the present National Assembly before it runs out its five-year term in March to make way for the next general election under a neutral caretaker government.
A lot has already been said by political rivals after an Oct 19 ruling by the Supreme Court, in deciding the long-pending so-called Asghar Khan case, called for a Federal Investigation Agency probe of alleged doling of funds to politicians of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad alliance before the 1990 election, which the PPP, then led by its former prime minister and assassinated leader Benazir Bhutto, said were stolen, and for action against the then chief of the army staff Gen (retd) Aslam Beg and then director-general of the Inter-Services Intelligence, Lt-Gen (retd) Asad Durrani, for their role in the affair.
While nothing beyond verbal sparring seems to have happened to implement the ruling, a new element in the controversy came to the fore on Nov 5 with the Chief of the Army Staff, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, warning in a speech to army officers against weakening state institutions and Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, in a speech to a delegation of trainee officials the same day, calling the Supreme Court as the ultimate protector of the Constitution and emphasising that mere missiles and tanks were no guarantee to the country’s stability and security.
Though major political parties have refrained from taking sides in the apparent finger-pointing between the two institutions, and while the chief justice has lately been praising the present parliament’s achievements -- contrary to an earlier perception of an encroachment of its domain -- any mention of the Asghar Khan case could burst into fireworks in the National Assembly.
Consensus on bills
Law and Justice Minister Farooq H. Naek had originally sought passage of the National Accountability Commission Bill and the Investigation for Fair Trial Bill by the previous session when he introduced the two drafts on Oct 8 and proposed that the Standing Committee on Law and Justice take only two days to submit its report.
But in order to give sufficient time mainly to the opposition PML-N to formulate its views and amendments, Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi, then chairing the house, asked the all-party standing committee to make the report as soon as possible.
The 21-member committee, according to a National Assembly secretariat notice, will meet on Monday and Tuesday to consider both the bills, which could then come before the house as early as Wednesday if the PPP follows through a promise made by its chief whip and Religious Affairs Minister Khursheed Ahmed Shah to accept “whatever amendments” are brought by the PML-N, whose objections to an accountability bill introduced in 2009, which has been replaced by the present draft, had kept the two sides wrangling for about three years.
The 48-clause National Accountability Commission Bill, 2012, will repeal the Musharraf-era National Accountability Ordinance of 1999 and provide for the replacement of the government-appointed National Accountability Bureau with a higher-level and independent three-member National Accountability Commission to prosecute corruption by holders of public office from Oct 1, 2002, onwards.