Government proposes amendments to accountability law as anti-graft crusade bites

A logo of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is seen on the main entrance of their office in Karachi, Pakistan Sept. 14, 2017. (REUTERS/File)
Updated 06 September 2019

Government proposes amendments to accountability law as anti-graft crusade bites

  • Law minister insists changes won’t render National Accountability Bureau “toothless”
  • Opposition parties say willing to negotiate with government to amend law accused of being used to victimize political foes

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government is preparing to amend the country’s anti-corruption law and will soon contact opposition parties for consultations, the law minister said this week as a recent anti-graft crusade against politicians and bureaucrats has led to accusations of selective accountability and created a climate of widespread fear. 
Prime Minister Imran Khan came to power last year vowing to root out corruption. While few dispute the need to clean up Pakistani politics, recent probes by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) into veteran politicians — including jailed former premier Nawaz Sharif and ex-President Asif Ali Zardari — have become a topic of heated debate, with many saying the drive is hurting an ailing economy and others pointing to a one-sided purge of political foes. NAB and the government deny targeting opponents.
“The consultation on amending the NAB law is in progress within the government,” law minister Dr. Farogh Naseem told Arab News in an interview on Thursday. “Once it is completed, we will also take the opposition parties on board.”
However, he added: “Let me make one thing clear to you: We don’t want to make the anti-corruption body toothless in any way through these amendments.”
NAB officials declined comment for this article. 
The National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) was promulgated in 1999 during the regime of military ruler General Pervez Musharraf. The country’s main opposition parties – the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – say the law has been routinely used over the years to victimize their leaders and fragment their parties and support-base. 
The two parties have also attempted to amend the law in the last decade but failed due to lack of consensus. 
Now, Khan’s government has prepared an 11-point draft proposal to amend the existing law which aims to narrow the scope of the anti-corruption watchdog only to “public office holders,” in contract with the present law which is applicable to “public office holder or any other person.”
“The application of the NAB laws may not be extended in respect of a private person or entity, who/which is directly and indirectly unconnected with a holder of public office,” the draft, a copy of which is available with Arab News, said. 
The proposed draft also suggests that an accused who enters a plea bargain or voluntarily returns assets or money amassed through corruption be barred from holding public office for a period of ten years, and sets a Rs500 million threshold for a case to be investigated by NAB.

The current crackdown has also ensnared civil servants who say that fear of persecution by NAB has left the civil service in disarray and brought decision-making at a standstill, with senior officials avoiding signing off on projects or making decisions that could open them to corruption allegations in the future. 
To correct this, the draft law proposes that NAB not “take cognizance of offenses [by government servants] based on procedural lapses only unless it is corroborated with evidence that the officer has materially benefited from such a decision/lapse.”
The draft suggests that the 90-day physical custody period of any “accused government servant” be reduced to 45 days. It also excludes from NAB’s jurisdiction taxation, stock exchange and stock market cases including Initial Public Offerings and building controls because appropriate action can be taken in such cases by the Federal Board of Revenue, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan and Building Control Authorities.
Opposition parties say the proposed amendments have not been shared with them, nor have they been contacted as yet by the government to seek inputs. 
Naveed Qamar, a senior of the main Pakistan People’s Party opposition party, said the PPP was willing to negotiate with the government over the amendments, but only after the bill was formally introduced in parliament for legislation. 
“The government has been talking about NAB law amendments for the last one year, but they have yet to see the light of day,” he said. 
Raja Zafarul Haq, a senior leader of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz party, also said the PMLN was willing to negotiate with the government on the amendments because this was “the need of the hour.” 
“We will discuss it with other opposition parties as well since the purpose is to stop victimization of businessmen and politicians at the hands of NAB,” Haq said. 
Former NAB prosecutor Munir Sadiq said there were two major issues in the current NAB law that neither the government nor the opposition had discussed so far. 
“The NAB chairman should be stripped of absolute powers and a hierarchy should be introduced to streamline the working of the Bureau and avoid any victimization,” he told Arab News. “There is also a need to ensure transparency at the inquiry and investigation level, so that people are not arrested by NAB without formal charges.”

Partnership with Pakistan can set science advance for Arab world – minister

Updated 9 min 53 sec ago

Partnership with Pakistan can set science advance for Arab world – minister

  • Islamabad and Riyadh have yet to cooperate in science
  • Pakistan can solve many of Saudi Arabia’s technology problems, says science minister

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s minister of science and technology on Thursday said his country’s expertise in the field of technology could benefit the Arab world, especially if a special technical partnership is forged with Saudi Arabia.

“I would like closer cooperation with the Arab world in science and technology,” Fawad Chaudry said in an exclusive interview with Arab News.

He noted that while Pakistan and Saudi Arabia already cooperate on a large scale, scientific cooperation has yet to be established.

The former information minister, who eight months ago was assigned the science and technology portfolio and pledged breakthrough advancements said that Pakistan is the world’s fourth-largest freelance software exporter, “so instead of relying on Europe and USA for routine software, and pay huge money for that,” the Arab world should rather focus on Pakistan. “We will be able to bring your requirements, frankly much cheaper than what you are getting now, and the standard will be as good.”

“The Arab world can benefit immensely from Pakistan’s experience.”

When asked what cooperation he seeks with the Kingdom, he said: “Saudi Arabia can take care of the budgets. This technical cooperation of Pakistan will actually solve many of Saudi Arabia’s technology problems.”

Pakistan is engaged in multimillion-dollar worth projects under the Islamic Development Bank’s (IsDB) Science, Technology and Innovation Transform Fund, which aim to help Muslim countries find practical solutions to their key development challenges through the power of innovation.

“I hope that once that fund will be available, we will be able to help many other Muslim countries,” the minister said, explaining that Pakistan wants to contribute to the smart villages concept. “We would like to give this smart village experience to other Muslim countries, African Muslim nations, and the Middle East.”

Smart villages use innovative solutions to improve the resilience of rural communities through facilities such as sustainable energy services to enable their access to education, health care, better nutrition, and sanitation.

Highlighting his country’s technological advancements, the minister cited Pakistani-made unmanned aerial vehicles. He said that since drone technology in Pakistan is advanced as in Europe, “on the issues of surveillance, agriculture, and many other areas, we can immensely help the Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia.”