ISLAMABAD: The government side handed over on Thursday a new draft of the controversial accountability law to the PML-N in an attempt to seek consensus on the much-delayed law seeking replacement of the existing National Accountability Bureau with a more powerful and independent commission.
The draft was handed over to PML-N’s Ishaq Dar and Khwaja Asif by a PPP delegation headed by federal Minister for Religious Affairs Syed Khurshid Shah during a meeting at the Punjab House. Law Minister Farooq H. Naek and Defence Minister Syed Naveed Qamar were also part of the PPP team.
Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, leader of Opposition in the National Assembly, however, gave a new twist to the matter by hinting that the new law might not be acceptable to the PML-N. He said the draft that had been handed over to the party by the PPP was “weak and aimless”.
“The PML-N will not become a part of any weak accountability law in any way,” he said during an interaction with media.
Talking to reporters, both Mr Shah and Mr Dar claimed that they had only discussed a one-point agenda — the accountability bill.
Mr Shah said the government wanted to bring the law to parliament with consensus because “we want that every law should be unanimously approved”.
Mr Dar said his party leadership would review the draft bill given to them by the PPP leaders.
Mr Naek said the new draft had been prepared keeping in view the aspirations of all stakeholders and expressed the hope that it would be passed with consensus.
He said the new law would ensure that there was no political victimisation and violation of fundamental rights in the name of accountability. The powers would rest on the proposed commission, not on an individual, he added.
COMBATIVE NISAR: Chaudhry Nisar alleged that the government even wanted to remove some of the clauses that it had earlier agreed to include in the law on the opposition’s demand. He said the PML-N had submitted about 58 amendments to the original draft and the government had agreed to make most of them part of the bill, but it seemed that now the PPP was dragging its feet.
The PML-N leader said the party would announce its official position on the draft law after reviewing it in a meeting of the party leadership.
Chaudhry Nisar, who personally opposes any dialogue with the PPP, reiterated his stance that the contact between the ruling party and the PML-N could not be termed “formal” because it had been a principled stance of his party that there would be no formal talks with the PPP which was devoid of credibility and whose past was full of broken promises. He claimed that Senator Ishaq Dar had met the PPP ministers with the prior permission of the party.
Replying to a question, he denied any differences within the party over the issue of continuing negotiations with the PPP. He, however, admitted that he was personally not in favour of any contact with the ruling party.
The accountability law titled “National Accountability Commission Act, 2010” has been a bone of contention between the two parties since its presentation in the National Assembly by then law minister Babar Awan on April 15, 2009, under the title “the Holder of Public Office (Accountability) Act, 2009”.
After deliberating for one full year, the NA Committee on Law and Justice headed by PPP’s Nasim Akhtar Chaudhry approved the draft of the bill in April 2010 despite the opposition’s protest. Not only the PML-N members of the committee, but a PPP MNA from Sindh Syed Zafar Ali Shah, also had submitted notes of dissent against the bill. However, the government later decided to defer its presentation before parliament till achieving a consensus on its draft.
The committee that reviewed the bill in more than 30 meetings witnessed several boycotts and walkouts and opposition and treasury members exchanged hot words on a number of occasions.
In a significant move, members of the committee had agreed to remove the immunity so far enjoyed by the armed forces and judicial and parliamentary figures by defining public office as given in Article 260 of the Constitution. Even speaker and deputy speaker of the NA and chairman and deputy chairman of the Senate – who have been excluded from the public office holders in Article 260 – have been made accountable through a clause of the proposed law.
The PML-N made public its opposition to a number of clauses in the bill. It has been insisting that the head of the proposed National Accountability Commission should compulsorily be a sitting judge of the Supreme Court whereas the draft of law suggests that the office can be held “either by a sitting judge, or a retired judge or any person qualified to be a judge of the Supreme Court”.
The opposition party is also against the immunity proposed for a holder of public office for any wrongdoing committed in ‘good faith’.
Sources told Dawn that the PPP had agreed to accept the opposition’s demand about the eligibility of the NAC chairman by removing the clause that “any person qualified to be a judge of the Supreme Court” but asked the PML-N not to stick to its demand that the commission must be headed by a sitting judge and suggested that any retired judge could also head the NAC.
The sources said the PPP was also ready to remove the clause providing immunity to a holder of public office for any wrongdoing committed in ‘good faith’.
In return, the sources said, the PPP wanted the PML-N to agree on the clause suggesting that the commission would not carry out investigations into the past cases and that the commission would not have the powers to send requests to other countries for freezing and forfeiting foreign assets of an accused person.