Under-fire NAB chief to face Senate panel

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ISLAMABAD: Amid ongoing controversy over recent TV interviews of a senior official of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), its chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal will be appearing before a Senate committee on Nov 16 for a comprehensive briefing on the “working and performance of the bureau”.
The Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice, headed by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Senator Javed Abbasi, had called the NAB chairman with complete record and data of the cases currently being investigated and disposed of by the bureau since its inception about 19 years ago, particularly in the last three years.
According to the agenda issued by the Senate Secretariat for the Nov 16 meeting of the standing committee, the NAB chairman is scheduled to brief the members on the “procedure for taking cognisance of cases, inquiry and prosecution, details of pending cases at various stages with current status and reasons for pendency in each case, details of recoveries made during the last three years, details of cases disposed of with percentages of acquittal and conviction, and mechanism regarding recommendations for placing a person on the Exit Control List with the details of such recommendations made in the last three years with the reasons thereof”.
The opposition parties, particularly the PML-N and Pakistan Peoples Party, have been criticising NAB for the last one year for its alleged “one-sided accountability”. They allege that NAB, which was created by former military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf in 1999 through an ordinance, had always been used as a tool for political victimisation of opponents.
During the previous two-week long National Assembly session, NAB came under fire in almost every sitting and Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif — who has been under NAB custody in connection with investigation into the Ashiyana housing scam since Oct 5 and attended the assembly proceedings after issuance of his production order by Speaker Asad Qaiser — had alleged that there was an “unholy alliance” between the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and NAB, complaining that the bureau had been active only against the PML-N people.
And on the last day of the NA session on Nov 9, the opposition lodged a strong protest over TV interviews of NAB Lahore Director General (DG) Shahzad Saleem in which he had unfolded details of the investigation against Shahbaz Sharif in the Ashiyana housing scam.
The opposition members even submitted a “question of privilege” in the National Assembly and demanded immediate intervention of the house in the matter. The speaker did not first give weight to the opposition’s move, but later assured them that he would take up the matter with the NAB chairman.
The opposition members in their motion stated that the bureau’s Lahore DG, “with the consent of the chairman NAB has appeared on TV programmes” and thus “conducted a media trial of opposition members, attempted to influence the so-called cases against the members of the National Assembly, provided details of the matters that are sub judice, revealed details of confidential and secret NAB documents and maligned the reputation of the members of the parliament”.
Interestingly, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry supported the action of the NAB Lahore DG, saying the PML-N had first set an example of maligning the bureau in the media. “Opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif had spoken for three hours in the house about his NAB case — Ashiyana housing project,” he had said, alleging that the opposition wanted to undermine the NAB investigation process by using the privilege motion as a tool.
Though the Senate committee had called for a briefing by the NAB chairman much before the controversial TV interviews of the DG, an opposition member of the committee said they would definitely raise the issue in the meeting and seek an explanation.
The NAB chairman has already taken notice of Mr Saleem’s TV interviews and sought their records from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority so that an action could be taken against the official under the law. In a statement, the NAB chief said the bureau gave respect to all parliamentarians.
The NAB claimed that the DG had appeared in TV talk shows without seeking prior permission of the chairman.
The NAB chairman is appearing before the Senate committee, comprising a number of political heavyweights, also at a time when both the government and the opposition have already reached an agreement that there is a need to overhaul the NAB laws to remove apprehensions about the working of the bureau in order to make the accountability process just and transparent.
In this connection, representatives of the government and the opposition had already held two meetings presided over by Law Minister Barrister Farogh Naseem. The opposition members claimed that the initiative for the talks on the issue had been taken by the PTI government itself.
After coming to power after the July 25 general elections, Prime Minister Imran Khan had constituted a special task force under the law minister to reform the accountability laws in the country. The task force had at its last meeting in September decided to consult all stakeholders and seek public support for preparing a new law aimed at empowering NAB.