ISLAMABAD, Oct 7: Surprised over government’s move to introduce a new accountability law in the National Assembly leaving aside an almost agreed draft, the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N hopes that the new bill will not be bulldozed and be referred to the standing committee concerned whereas the ruling PPP is still non-committal on the issue.

The two controversial bills — the National Accountability Commission Bill 2012 and Investigation for Fair Trial Bill 2012 — are on the agenda of the National Assembly session to be held on Monday evening after a two-day recess.

Law Minister Farooq Naek says he cannot commit whether the government will refer the two drafts to the committee or go for immediate passage after their presentation.

Although the two bills are on the agenda under the heading “introduction of bills” and not as “legislative business”, the PML-N fears that the government may try to get them passed on Monday after suspending the rules since it has the required majority in the house.

Talking to Dawn on Sunday, Mr Naek admitted that the new accountability bill was entirely different from the one presented by former law minister Dr Babar Awan in 2009 and had been pending before the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice for over three years mainly because of differences between the PPP and PML-N over its four clauses.

“I fail to understand why the PPP is insisting on bringing a new law despite the fact that its previous bill has already been thoroughly debated in the standing committee for more than three years,” said Anusha Rehman, a PML-N member of the committee. She urged the government to bring the previous bill to the house that had been approved by the committee with a majority vote despite the fact that her party had opposed it and submitted four notes of dissent.

Leader of Opposition in the Senate Ishaq Dar, who headed a PML-N team which held negotiations with the PPP over the issue last month, said his party wanted the government to refer the new bill to the same standing committee so that it members could compare the changes in it with the previous bill.

He said the PML-N would not be a part of the government’s move to introduce a “toothless and politically-motivated accountability law”. By introducing a new law the government would in fact ‘disown’ its own members who had approved the previous bill.

Mr Dar said he had handed over the draft of the new law to Zahid Hamid and Anusha Rehman, PML-N members of the NA standing committee.

The accountability law has been a bone of contention between the two parties since its presentation in the National Assembly by Babar Awan on April 15, 2009, under the title “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 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 which 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.

Last month, the PPP decided to bring a new law and handed over its draft to the PML-N in an effort to seek consensus on the law seeking replacement of NAB with a more powerful and independent commission.

The draft was handed over to PML-N’s Ishaq Dar and Khawaja Asif by a PPP delegation headed by Syed Khurshid Shah and comprising Farooq Naek and Defence Minister Syed Naveed Qamar at a meeting last month.

Both the sides blame each other for the delay in presentation of the bill.

FAIR TRIAL ACT: The law minister is also set to introduce the Investigation for Fair Trial Bill 2012 in the house on Monday. The agenda says the minister will introduce the bill “to provide for investigation for collection of evidence by means of modern techniques and devices to prevent and effectively deal with scheduled offences and to regulate the powers of the law enforcement and intelligence agencies and for matters connected therewith or ancillary thereto”.


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