ISLAMABAD: Opposition members of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice on Wednesday protested over the committee chairman’s refusal to put the controversial bills seeking to amend the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) for vote after realising that the government might face a defeat.
Of the 20 committee members including its chairman Riaz Fatyana, six members from the treasury and 10 opposition members were present at the meeting that had been convened to consider five bills, including the NAO (Second Amendment) Bill, 2021 and the NAO (Third Amendment) Bill, 2021.
Turning down the opposition’s demand to put the two bills for a vote, Mr Fatyana asked the members to submit their concerns, reservations and proposals over the two bills in writing before adjourning the meeting.
The government has already enforced the two laws through promulgation of the ordinances. The first ordinance allows the government to extend the tenure of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman till the appointment of his successor and through the second ordinance, the powers to appoint NAB chairman have been delegated to the president.
Opposition up in arms over standing committee chairman’s decision
During the deliberations on the bills, a majority of the opposition members criticised the government for doing legislation through presidential ordinances. The opposition members expressed their concerns over the procedure of NAB chairman’s nomination as well as the appointment of retired district and sessions judges as judges of the accountability courts and fixation of retirement age for the judges of accountability courts up to 68 years.
Sources told Dawn that during the meeting, the opposition members bombarded Law Minister Farogh Naseem with questions over government’s move to extend the tenure of incumbent NAB chairman Javed Iqbal and giving powers of NAB chairman’s appointment to the president.
After the meeting, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb issued a statement claiming that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government had suffered a defeat at the hands of the opposition on the second and third amendment bills of the NAB in the standing committee.
It said the law minister arrived at the meeting half an hour late and after a heated debate, he left the committee room at a time when the opposition members were demanding a vote on the bills.
During the meeting, PML-N lawmaker Rana Sanaullah said as collective decisions of the cabinet had been excluded from NAB scope according to the amendment bill, who would take action over a wrong decision of the cabinet. Also, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the anti-corruption department could not take action in this regard when their heads were appointed by the government, he said, adding that the heads of these institutions did not even have legal protection. He was of the opinion that it would have been better if those matters had remained with the accountability bureau.
Pakistan Peoples Party lawmaker Syed Naveed Qamar said they should take advantage of this opportunity to draft objective legislation without any shortcomings and loopholes if they had lost opportunities in the past.
PML-N legislator Mahmood Bashir Virk was of the opinion that amendments to the NAB law had not been made in good faith and were based on mala fide intention. He called for rejection of the bills.
Also, Khawaja Saad Rafique of the PML-N said the authority to issue ordinances existed only for extremely special circumstances. He said the NAB ordinances were against the spirit of the Constitution. He made the offer that the opposition could sit with the government on the issue if it withdrew the controversial bills.
While opposing government’s move to grant extension in the term of the NAB chairman, Mr Rafique said empowering the president to appoint the head of watchdog meant that NAB would remain subservient to the government. He believed the new proposed laws would be overturned by any court at the very first hearing.
Talking to Dawn, a PTI member of the committee Lal Chand criticised the opposition for playing double standards in committee’s meeting. He said the opposition had offered to the government that it was ready to sit with it and discuss the laws for purpose of improvement but when it saw treasury members were not present in full strength, they started making the demand for a vote on the bills so that they could get them rejected.
The PTI lawmaker said Mr Fatyana had already declared they would carry out the first and second readings of the bills and it would be put for a vote if the committee failed to develop a consensus.
At the outset, the committee members took notice of the violence against a woman by a group of lawyers in Malir district courts after PTI’s Chand raised the issue. The committee directed the Sindh High Court registrar to submit an incident report.
Besides Mr Chand, Mr Ataullah, Maleeka Bokhari, Junaid Akbar and Shunila Ruth of the PTI and Kishwar Zehra of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement represented the government in the meeting. From the opposition side, the meeting was attended by Mr Sanaullah, Mr Virk, Usman Ibraheem, Mr Rafique and Mohsin Nawaz Ranjha of the PML-N, Qadir Khan Mandokhail, Nafeesa Shah and Syed Naveed Qamar of the PPP, Aliya Kamran of the JUI-F and Agha Hassan Baloch of the BNP-Mengal attended the meeting.