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The four-year tenure of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Chairman Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal is ending next month. Yet, the federal government is still undecided on who would replace him and head the anti-corruption watchdog.
The appointment of the NAB chairman is made by the prime minister in consultation with the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly. However, Prime Minister Imran Khan is not willing to consult Shehbaz Sharif over the matter as the opposition leader is accused in corruption references filed by NAB. Now the government is considering all legal options for the appointment of NAB chairman which includes given an extension to the current chairman or appointing him again.
The appointment of a new NAB chairman without consulting the opposition leader can lead to new challenges for the government. The decision will certainly be challenged for not following the required procedure under the NAB Ordinance. In fact, it can also be unconstitutional as there is a verdict of the Supreme Court. Thus, the decision to consult the opposition leader is not a choice but rather a legal binding.
To avoid the situation, the government is considering extending the tenure of the incumbent chairman. However, this would require legislation to implement the decision. If the government decides to bring an ordinance or pass a law through an act of parliament, then it could also be challenged in the apex court. Apart from this, there would be a huge uproar by the opposition parties who would make all attempts to block it.
Shehbaz Sharif is facing several NAB cases relating to money laundering and asset beyond means. He is also accused in the Ashiana Housing and Ramzan Sugar Mills scandals. He has stayed in jail for about a year in these cases and is currently on bail. The party has decried the references as political victimization against the opposition and accused the outgoing chairman of working on behest of the prime minister.
The government seems to be in a fix over the appointment of the new NAB chairman. Shehbaz Sharif has a conflict of interest but nevertheless remains the opposition leader. It is imperative that all constitutional procedures are followed for the vital post. Most important, it should be ensured that the accountability drive is not derailed in the country.