The appointment of National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) chief has been a bone of contention between the Opposition and the ruling PTI, and it doesn’t seem to be coming to a logical conclusion any time soon. The government is hellbent on keeping the incumbent NAB Chairman Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal, despite Opposition’s strong rejection. The PML-N has referred to the extension of Iqbal’s tenure equivalent to providing ‘NROs to mafias’, while the PPP has termed it ‘illegal’. But unmoved by their grievances, President Arif Alvi promulgated the now amended National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 2021 on Wednesday. It allows for Iqbal’s reappointment or extension of his tenure.
Other sections of the previous NAO 1999 have also been amended and the Ordinance no longer allows NAB to proceed against “any person or entity who, or transaction in relation thereto, which are not directly or indirectly connected with the holder of a public office.” This amendment could work in favour of PML-N leaders Ahsan Iqbal and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who are facing corruption cases. However, the timing of this change is crucial. It comes just a few days after the release of the Pandora Papers, which found that Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin and other members of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s inner circle held off-shore companies. While the government claims that the new NAO is ‘an attempt to steer NAB in the right direction,’ we cannot ignore the fact that the Ordinance was bulldozed through a legislation instead of passing it through a proper parliamentary session.
The ruling PTI must realise that in a democratic setup a consensus between the incumbent government and the opposition is a compulsion. This ‘my way or the high way’ attitude of PM Imran-led government is violating the sanctity of the Constitution. For one, the appointment of a new NAB chairman should be made in consensus with the Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif. But PM Imran has refused in holding talks with him as he believes it is a ‘conflict of interest’ since Sharif is currently under trail for corruption cases by the NAB. It must be noted that the PML-N president has not been convicted. Secondly, reappointment of the NAB chairman would be a disservice to the government itself. Under Iqbal, the accountability watchdog has been reduced to a witch-hunt against opposition leaders. A NAB chairman should be an uncontroversial individual to uphold the credibility of the accountability process. The government must make the process of their appointment transparent than take a unilateral decision.