Media, NAB take flak in parliament over ‘smear’
By: Iftikhar A. Khan and Raja Asghar
ISLAMABAD: Both media and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) took turns to take flak in both houses of parliament for the second successive day on Friday over a perceived smearing of politicians.
In the National Assembly, where the government sought opposition’s cooperation on Thursday to investigate a NAB report about billions of rupees lost daily in corruption, lawmakers across party lines blasted the media on Friday for allegedly maligning politicians over tax evasion claims, with only a passing reference to the NAB claim.
But the upper house, where senators from both sides of the political divide had united to assail the perceived media vilification on Thursday, saw some difference of opinion on Friday over the controversial NAB estimates of over Rs12 billion worth of daily corruption in the country.
In the National Assembly, a mini debate through points of order was marked by denials by some members as well as counter-charges against unspecified media groups and threats of legal action against some private television channels for their stories and comments based on the reports of two local NGOs released on Wednesday.
There was talk of unpunished tax and loan defaults by unspecified media groups themselves, alleged intellectual dishonesty, and NGO “mafias”, with some named as being tasked to malign politicians.
In Senate on Thursday, the issue of tax evasion was referred to the finance committee of the upper house after some denials and clarifications, including one on behalf of President Asif Ali Zardari and another by Pakistan Muslim League-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain.
No such action was taken in the National Assembly, where the most scathing speech came from Public Accounts Committee chairman Nadeem Afzal Gondal of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party after the issue was first raised by Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour who denied he evaded tax and threatened legal action in the absence of an apology by a certain channel, as did Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, a former interior minister and head of PPP-S.
Mr Gondal wondered why some TV anchors giving sermons to politicians would not do the same to their employers or resign their jobs to protest against their tax and loan defaults or non-payment of staff salaries.
“It is all mafia, some in the name of media, some in the name of an NGO,” he said, though he acknowledged there were also journalists of character and described politicians as being “the least among thieves” of all classes.
Malik Ibrar Ahmed, a PML-N member from Rawalpindi district, called for an apology by the media over its conduct in the affair while his party colleague Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, also from the same district, proposed a house resolution to ask the Election Commission of Pakistan to maintain a list of members filing income tax returns to avoid vilification of all parliamentarians.
The house conducted no business other than speeches on the media role after the question hour before it was adjourned until 5pm on Monday.
SENATE FISSURES: Hours before NAB took the heat off the federal government by holding Punjab responsible for 65 percent of the country’s corruption, the position paper on corruption unveiled by the NAB on Thursday created fissures in the Senate on Friday.
Senator Farhatullah Babar, who is also the spokesman for President Zardari, said it was expected that after alleging corruption worth Rs7bn a day, the NAB chairman, Admiral (retd) Fasih Bokhari, would come up with details. But he said he was dismayed to see the chairman’s report of Thursday spread over two and a half pages — which raised the estimate to Rs10-12bn a day — referring to non-imposition of agricultural tax as corruption.
He said it was for parliament to impose agricultural tax, and if it were not done, it could in no way be called corruption. Likewise, non-imposition of wealth tax could also not be branded as corruption.
He said the NAB report suggested that the tax-to-GDP ratio should have been 18 per cent instead of 9 per cent, but was silent on how to manage it. He said the list of corruption estimates also included the losses caused by power outages.
Senate Chairman Nayyar Hussain Bokhari also deplored what he called an act of redefining ‘corruption’ and referred the matter to the concerned house committee.
Unaware of the twist, Syed Zafar Ali Shah of PML-N earlier made NAB’s paper the basis for his criticism against the government, saying the country would be like an empty vessel if massive loot and plunder on a daily basis went unabated.
Senator Zahid Khan of the Awami National Party took serious exception to media reports of tax evasion by parliamentarians and demanded suspension of the chairman and member income tax of the Federal Board of Revenue.
He regretted that whenever the house sought details of a tax defaulter, it had been told it was not permissible under the law. “Is it a sin to be a politician”? he asked and said it would be detrimental to democracy to humiliate a particular class in this manner. “All the politicians are not thieves,” he said and observed they must not be targeted like this.
Haimen Das of PML-N raised the issue of the killing of a spiritual leader of Hindus, Lakhi Chand, in Mastung, and said activities against minorities had assumed an alarming proportion over the last four years leading to a record exodus. Senators Amar Jeet and Hari Ram also raised minority-specific issues.
Earlier, during the question hour, the Senate was informed that there was a room for appointment of foreign nationals in government service.
In a written reply to Sughra Imam’s question whether the persons having dual nationality were eligible for government service, the house was told that under Rule 13 of the Civil Servants (Appointment, Promotion and Transfer) Rules, a candidate for appointment should be a citizen of Pakistan, but the requirement can be relaxed with the approval of Establishment Division. In case the candidates are appointed on a temporary basis to posts at Pakistani missions abroad, such relaxation would not be for more than one year at a time.
The house was informed that under Rule 6 (111) of the rules of competitive examination, a candidate having dual nationality must surrender foreign nationality and inform the government about this before joining the Civil Services Academy.