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Why Did Govt Delay Passage Of NAB Bills Despite Opposition’s Support?

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In a surprising development on September 23, the National Assembly panel deferred consideration of three important bills, including National Accountability (2nd Amendment) Bill, 2019, despite opposition members extending support to the proposed legislation.

As per the law, the government was bound to get approval of National Accountability (2nd Amendment) Bill, 2019 (Ordinance No XXVII of 2019), Whistleblower Protection and Vigilance Commission, Ordinance No XXIII of 2019 and International Court of Justice (Reviewed and Re-consideration) Ordinance No VI of 2020 from National Assembly and Senate both within 120 days, but it could not get the bills passed owing to various push and pull factors.

According to media reports, the committee meeting delayed its discussion on the bills on the request of the Ministry of Law and Justice as Law Minister Farogh Naseem wanted to brief the meeting over the amended bills but he could not attend the meeting.

When a member of the NA panel from PML-N was questioned about the delay, he said he could not share what was discussed in the meeting. However, he said there was nothing unusual behind this delay, adding that the matter will be discussed in the next meeting when the law minister confirms his availability.

The delay in discussion on the bill raises the question that if the National Accountability (2nd Amendment) Bill, 2019 was not as important that the law minister could ensure his presence then why the government was in a haste to get the bill approved.

Thinktank PILDAT’s president Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, while commenting on the development, said that the NA panel’s decision to defer consideration of National Accountability (2nd Amendment) Bill, 2019 (Ordinance No XXVII of 2019), despite opposition’s support reflects that the government is not clear in its convictions.

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He said that the development gave an impression that the government does what opposition resists and opposes what opposition supports, adding that the government may be doubtful about its decision.

Bilal Mehboob said the opposition wasn’t opposing the bill earlier but wanted certain improvements in it, which wasn’t acceptable for the government. He termed opposition’s resistance a factor behind the government failure to approve the bills from the Parliament and Senate within 120 days.

Talking about the impact of amendment, he said that NAB stopped working on various cases while the business community also gets confused.

Khalid Rasool, a Lahore based businessman, said as far as the spirit of the bill is concerned there was no difference between the government and opposition, adding that their difference was on giving extra power to the institutions. He termed the proposed amendments important to put the system on the right track.

In January 2020, Prime Minister Imran Khan accepted that making amendments to the NAB law was a difficult decision which had been taken to protect bureaucracy from the clutches of the anti-graft watchdog only for committing “procedural lapses”.

He had said that several senior bureaucrats had legitimate reservations that they were scared of NAB despite the fact that they could not be held accountable on charges of procedural changes.

After that, the federal cabinet approved the National Accountability (2nd Amendment) Ordinance Bill 2019 on December 27, giving protection to the bureaucracy and business community from NAB actions.

The new NAB ordinance aims to facilitate the business community and promote trade activity in the country.

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Backstory

The National Accountability (2nd Amendment) Ordinance, 2019 was promulgated on December 28, 2019 through a presidential Order under Article 89 of the Constitution, 1973.

In May 2020, this Ordinance stands expired due to a lack of approval from the Parliament within 120 days.

The promulgation of the Ordinance is a result of the United Nations Resolution 58/4 of the General Assembly which adopted the Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) in December 2005. According to the Convention, the signatories are expected to lend cooperation in criminal matters. One of the aims of this Convention is to reduce various types of corruption, including money laundering, translational corrupt practices and embezzlement. Pakistan is not only signatory to the Convention but has also rectified it through the National Accountability Ordinance in 1999, which aims to curb corruption in the country at grassroots level.

Despite these measures, corruption is still common in the country. The problem seems to have become more complicated due to political rivalries and the internalization of corrupt practices with the country.

In Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perception Index, Pakistan ranked at 117 out of 180 corrupt countries, scoring 33 point out of 100. The score didn’t improve by one point in 2018 but in 2019, Pakistan was again downgraded to 120/118 with a total of 32 points.

Against the backdrop, the latest amendment to the NAO 1999 and its subsequent expiration has yet again put a question on the current government’s rhetoric on accountability.

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Naya Daur