Prime Minister Imran Khan has to consult opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif on the appointment of a new NAB chairman as the four-year tenure of the current chairman is set to finish in a fortnight. During the three years of the PTI government, there have been numerous occasions when there was a political stalemate. The government has showed its inclination on granting an extension to the incumbent NAB chief or a renewal of his term altogether but there is a small snag as law does not allow both. The NAB Ordinance unequivocally bars a person from holding the esteemed position more than the stipulated time period of four years. The constitution says that the appointment of the accountability chief must be decided by the prime minister in consultation with the leader of the opposition. They agree on three names and then forward that list to a parliamentary committee (that has equal representation of members from both treasury benches as well as the opposition) for hearing and confirmation. However, close aides of the prime minister have conveyed that he is not inclined in following this due course (even though the constitution has allowed for the provision of forwarding separate lists to the parliamentary committee in case the premier and the opposition leader fail to reach a consensus). Having said that, the PTI government has raised a legal question as they argue that the current opposition leader is NAB accused in a number of cases and therefore, consulting him for the appointment of the NAB chairman would be a direct conflict of interest.
What the government can do is amend the NAB law by making space for a second term or an extension in the current term of the chairman. It has the numbers to do so and no one can stop them from taking this course of action but there is a fly in the ointment. Within the small coterie of the PTI decision makers, there is an ongoing debate whether amending the law for the appointment/extension of one individual (who, by the way, is controversial due to a number of reasons), is worth-it. Then there is the question of handling accountability and will the new person be able to take the job as zealously as the PTI leadership demands, especially when accountability is a core theme in their manifesto. Another proposition is to amend the constitution by altering the mechanism of appointment i.e. the government does away with the requirement of consulting the opposition leader. This would have disastrous effects on the popularity of the government as the principle of consultation is sidelined, not to mention the adverse effects on the legitimacy of NAB litigation following such a course of action. Having said this, the government has to decide on a game plan as early as possible because time is limited as within two weeks, when the tenure of the current chairman expires, and the government fails to appoint a person, NAB will practically be dysfunctional. Without a chairman, it would not be able to file new references. The organization will continue to work on the existing cases but new references would not be filed. Whatever the government decides, it has to do it in the next 14 days as time is of the essence.