Govt again drags its feet on accountability bill
By: Amir Wasim
ISLAMABAD: Chairperson of the National Assembly`s Standing Committee on Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Nasim Akhtar Chaudhry of the ruling PPP, once again frustrated opposition`s attempt to have final discussion on the long-delayed accountability bill on Thursday with the help of her party colleagues.
Ms Chaudhry, realising that the opposition members outnumbered the treasury members in the meeting, ignored the calls of the PML-N members for a final voting on the bill that seeks to replace the controversial National Accountability Bureau (NAB) with a powerful, independent commission, started using lame excuses for abandoning the meeting.
“Chaudhry Sahab, you were supposed to go to a funeral,” she said looking at her surprised party member Abdul Ghafoor Chaudhry and stood up, abruptly adjourning the meeting.
She vaguely said the matter would be discussed “on 15th or 16th”, ordering the staff of the committee to bring the minutes of the previous meeting to verify Mr Chaudhry`s claim that the PML-N had changed its position on one of the important provisions of the bill.
The three PML-N members protested the chairperson`s attitude, called her a “dictator” and accused the government members of intentionally using delaying tactics as it wanted to continue with the “black law” introduced by former military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf.
Earlier, Ms Chaudhry said the government had accommodated a majority of the 58 amendments suggested by the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) and four of its proposals had been rejected by the committee members with a majority vote.
She said the committee had the tradition of approving the drafts of various laws with consensus and now wanted the PML-N members to withdraw their dissenting notes.
On the other hand, the PML-N members said they would not withdraw their dissenting notes and insisted that the committee should now send the bill to the National Assembly for a final vote. The opposition members also got support from a PPP member Syed Zafar Ali Shah and Iqbal Qadri of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) which was also a matter of concern for the chairperson.
Later, the PML-N members, who had earlier declared that they would hold no further discussion on the bill in the committee, told reporters that they would announce their next line of action after discussing the matter with party chief Nawaz Sharif.
The accountability law seeking replacement of NAB with National Accountability Commission (NAC) has been hanging in the air for the past 31 months. The government has been blaming the PML-N members for the delay in its presentation as they submitted the dissenting notes during the meetings of the standing committee whereas the PML-N members have been blaming the “non-serious” attitude of the government for the delay.
The PML-N has been insisting that the head of the 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.
The then 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 assembly on April 15, 2009 in the light of the first speech made by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on the floor of the house 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 (CoD) signed by former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in May 2006.