Reaction to verdict on NAB chief baffles observers
ISLAMABAD: As night fell, speculation about a new round of confrontation between the judiciary and the executive picked up pace as the government decided to challenge the Supreme Court decision to remove National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Chairman Justice (retd) Syed Deedar Hussain Shah.
The removal of the chairman, who has served only for five months, seemed to be a fait accompli on Thursday afternoon as Mr
Shah quietly relinquished charge.
When the order came at around 3:30pm, the NAB chairman was in the office. He was provided the information by a NAB official present in the court. Within half an hour, the chairman had left the office and his actions gave the impression the
government had decided to accept the decision of the court.
However, by the evening the situation appeared different. “The government is consulting its legal team on the issue,” Information Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan told Dawn. She did not provide any details.
That the government was in the mood to challenge the court’s order was also obvious from the reaction of the PPP, Sindh. Taj Haider, who is secretary general of the party in Sindh, called a strike in the province on Friday to protest the court’s decision.
He asked that shops be closed and lawyers boycott the lower and high courts.
But as the PPP is now in the habit of doing, the leadership in the centre refused to explain whether or not the call given by Mr Haider was backed by the entire party. Ms Awan refused to comment on the call, saying the decision might have been taken at the party level.
When contacted, PPP Secretary Information Qamar Zaman Kaira said the call was given by Mr Haidar in his capacity as the provincial secretary general of the party. However, he was reluctant to clarify whether or not the call would be backed by the entire party. “I can’t say that it is the party line,” he said.
Sources in the party said the top PPP leadership believed that the removal of Deedar Hussain Shah was contrary to the NAB Ordinance.
The government believes that it acted according to the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO 1999) and that the court order did not follow the prescribed procedure for the removal of NAB chairman.
This is because under the NAB Ordinance, the bureau’s head can be removed through a procedure similar to the one followed for the removal of a judge of the Supreme Court. In other words, the case pertaining to the removal of the prosecutor general and also the chairman is sent to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) along with the reasons for asking for such a decision. Once the council has taken a decision, the case is sent to the president for the final nod.
The appointment of NAB chairman on October 8, 2010 became a bone of contention between the government and the PML-N, the main opposition party, because of the two’s varying interpretations of the law.
Under the NAB Ordinance, the government has to consult with the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly for the appointment of the chairman.
The PML-N claimed that the consent of the leader of opposition in the National Assembly, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, had not been sought in a ‘meaningful’ way as laid down in the ordinance.
The government was of the view that it only had to consult the opposition but not get its agreement in the matter.
Justice (retd) Shah was the first chairman of the NAB to belong to the judiciary. He had served as a judge of Supreme Court and Chief Justice Sindh High Court.
The government is also considering replacing the NAB with the National Accountability Commission by May this year.
Zardari holds meeting
After the Supreme Court’s verdict ordering immediate removal of Justice Shah as NAB chairman, President Zardari presided over a meeting at the presidency and decided to fill the vacant post soon. Law Minister Babar Awan attended the meeting.
Some private TV channels reported that the government had decided to reappoint Justice Shah as NAB chief.
However, presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar neither confirmed nor denied the report.