November 8; At a PILDAT Roundtable discussing Reforms in Accountability
System of Pakistan that brought together prominent representation from PML-N,
PPP & PTI, politicians disagreed on whether or not to have across-the-board
accountability in Pakistan that should apply to all State institutions including
Judiciary and the Military.
With Senator Muhammad Javed Abbasi, belonging
to PML-N and member of Parliamentary Committee on National Accountability Law
in the chair, Syed Naveed Qamar, MNA andSenator Farhatullah
Babar represented the PPP and Mr. Shafqat Mahmood,
MNA, shared the perspective of the PTI at the Roundtable. Speakers also included
Mr. Shahid Hamid, Senior Advocate Supreme Court and former
Governor Punjab, Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Moinuddin Haider, former
Federal Minister of Interior, Former Governor Sindh and Mr. Mujib-ur-Rehman
Shami, Senior Journalist.
Opening the roundtable, Senator Javed Abbasi said that the
Parliamentary Committee on National Accountability Law had been established
after the case of plea bargain of the Balochistan bureaucrat. He said that the
Committee had achieved marvellous progress with political consensus on draft
national accountability commission act (NACA) but lately political considerations
seem to have made parties revise their positions. He believed that across-the-board
accountability is the only just and effective way to establish accountability
in Pakistan. He lamented that it will be Parliament's biggest failure if it
fails to legislate on a new, effective, credible accountability law for all.
If existing systems of internal accountability were working in Pakistan, we
would have been a corruption-free country today, said Senator Abbasi. Sharing
his views on provincial accountability laws, he said that if Pakistan's Provinces
are excluded from the ambit of accountability, the law will only cover a minority
of the system.
Senator Farhatullah Babar said that issues relating to corruption
only should be under the domain of one accountability institution. What Parliament
and Parties have agreed by not having across the board accountability for all
is a surrender akin to the December 16 surrender of East Pakistan. He said that
his stance to support accountability for all emanated from his party's position
and he was surprised and embarrassed that his party now joined other parties
in the Parliament to say that the accountability law should not extend to all
institutions of the State.
Mr. Shafqat Mahmood said that PTI believes that the ambit
of existing NAB law are too wide and the focus should have been on public office
holders only. He said that PTI did not change its policy overnight and PTI discussed
this important issue of accountability for an hour and a half to reach this
position. On the subject of accountability for all, he said that PTI believes
that Judiciary is considering serious cases and at this stage putting judiciary
under political influence of accountability will not be beneficial. Similarly,
he said, putting Military under politically-influenced accountability at this
stage when Military is fighting a sensitive war is also not the right time to
Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Moinuddin Haider said that the NAB law follows
good practices of accountability mechanisms world over which also include concept
of plea bargain. He said that despite starting out as an effective institution,
NAB was politicised later under General (Retd.) Musharraf. He believed that
accountability should be for all in Pakistan including Judiciary, Military and
should also include Journalists.
Mr. Shahid Hamid said that all political parties have succumbed
to the pressure to not have accountability for all. Judiciary is of the view
that its protected under Article 209 of the Constitution and such a law, if
passed, may be struck down. Having a Commission of 4 members instead of one
chairperson of NAB is a good thing and parties can develop consensus to do so.
However, if parties disagree on a new law, the existing NAO can also be amended.
Mr. Mujib-ur-Rehman Shami said that in order to strengthen
accountability procedures, the existing institution must be strengthened so
that NAB or a new commission can focus only on a specialized field. He said
that if the systems of internal accountability are such a valid argument for
not bringing all State institutions within the ambit of one accountability law,
then Parliament should also conduct its own accountability through committees
and only file a reference to courts, where needed. In a similar fashion, business
persons have the chambers and should undertake internal accountability and other
entities should also follow suit.
Introducing the subject of the Roundtable Discussion, Mr.
Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, President PILDAT said that the country is witnessing afresh
the quest for a consensus on a new accountability law. Initially, the major
political parties had appeared to agree on repealing the existing National Accountability
Ordinance, 1999. However, key disagreement on the scope of the proposed lawis
reportedly on extending the proposed law's scope to include officials of the
military and judiciary by enlarging the definition of 'public office holder.'
Opponents of the proposed expansion hold that both the military and judiciary
have their own internal systems to hold their respective officials to account,
and that, therefore, the proposed expansion is uncalled for. Supporters for
the inclusion of these institutions feel that the latter's internal accountability
mechanisms are not effective and have seldom been used for curbing corruption
in military and judicial ranks. However, if this premise is to be accepted,
each institution, including Parliament, civil bureaucracy and others may also
wish to follow suit and have internal and exclusive systems of accountability.
Senator Usman Kakar of the PMAP said that it is ironic that
the owners of the country - which are the citizens as per the Constitution-
are under the ambit of accountability while servants of the State are above
accountability. He said that political considerations against accountability
for all will only hurt the country more. MPs who joined the discussion included
Senator Azam Musakhel, Senator Usman Kakar, Ms. Nafeesa Khattak, MNA, Ms. Sabiha
Nazir, MNA, Alhaj Shah Jee Gul Afridi, MNA and Engr. Mr. Hamid-ul-Haq, MNA.
A large number of civil society representatives, academia and media persons
joined the discussion.