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Amending NAB laws

A row has ensued over the prime minister’s refusal to consult the opposition leader over NAB Chairman’s appointment. The government has to once again rely on a presidential ordinance to extend the NAB chairman’s tenure rather than speaking to the opposition leader who is facing corruption cases.

The president, who is supposedly the symbol of the federation, has now been given a greater role in appointing the head of the anti-graft watchdog. According to the amendment in National Accountability Ordinance 2021, the president will appoint the NAB chairman in consultation with the prime minister and the opposition leader. In case of failure to reach a consensus, the matter will be decided by a parliamentary committee.

Under the garb of extending the NAB chairman’s tenure, the government has made several other amendments to accountability laws. The president has the authority to establish as many accountability courts as he deems fit. The NAB laws will not extend to matters pertaining to federal, provincial, and local taxation as they have been removed from its purview.

The most controversial change, however, is that NAB would have no jurisdiction over private individuals who are not connected to public office under the amended ordinance. This implies that apart from the bureaucracy, all those involved in corruption cases will not be probed. However, the government has fixed the loopholes in voluntary returns and plea bargains as such individuals will be disqualified for ten years.

It may be seen that the government has clipped the wings of NAB rather than strengthening it. The role of the prosecutor-general has been increased while suspects can also gain bail from accountability courts. If a bank or financial institution takes any decision, NAB cannot take action until prior approval of the State Bank of Pakistan’s governor. Decisions of the federal cabinet, Council of Common Interests (CCI) and constitutional bodies will also be out of NAB’s authority.

The government has stirred a storm in a teacup with NAB Chairman’s appointment and amendments to accountability laws. It should discuss the amendments in parliament rather than relying on ordinances. It should also ensure the accountability process is not derailed and the anti-graft watchdog is strengthened so that corruption cases finally reach their logical conclusion.