ISLAMABAD: With only a day left of its current session, the National Assembly appeared on Thursday to be facing a lag on a new accountability law for holders of public office despite earlier government plans for a quick work.
As it became clear the National Accountability Commission Bill introduced three days ago would not come before the present session ending on Friday because the house standing committee on law and justice failed to complete the scrutiny of the 48-clause draft before adjourning until Oct 18, opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan threatened from outside the chamber that the PML-N would “strongly react” to any bulldozing.
On a request from Law and Justice Minister Farooq H. Naek while introducing the bill on Monday, Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi had directed the standing committee, dominated by the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and its allies, to submit its report “as soon as possible”, giving rise to speculations that the bill could be rushed through the house as early as Thursday or before its scheduled prorogation.
But such a quick march after a three-year hold-up of a discarded previous accountability bill was ruled out by the standing committee’s adjournment when it appeared bogged down on some controversial clauses and another session of the lower house seemed unlikely this month because many parliamentarians would be away in Saudi Arabia for Haj due in the last week of the month.
As the bill was missing from its Thursday’s agenda, the house was left with some low-key business, including the passage of an official bill empowering the federal capital to make new entries of punishable traffic violations into the existing law.
Before adjourning until 10am on Friday, the house also passed two resolutions calling for an effective monitoring of the polio vaccination campaign and voicing a “serious concern” over what it called “growing trends of obscenity and indecency” in the electronic media and “unchecked flow of blasphemous and vulgar material” through the Internet.
While the previous Public Office (Accountability) Bill introduced in 2009, which too provided for an independent accountability commission to replace the present National Accountability Bureau functioning under a Musharraf-era decree, was discarded after hanging fire for three years because of the standing committee’s failure to reach a government-sought consensus, the new draft is touted by the government as one designed to remove controversies on issues like qualifications for the commission chairman and the start of the time for its applicability.
The new bill provides for consultation between the prime minister and the leader of opposition in the National Assembly and a complicated procedure for the standing committee’s approval of the appointment of the chairman, who must be either a former Supreme Court judge or a former Grade 22 federal government official, and for the enforcement of the law from Oct 1, 2002.
But Chaudhry Nisar, in a statement issued by his office, urged the media and members of the civil society to raise their voice against what he called “travesty of justice and daylight robbery” that he said was taking place through the new draft.
“The PML-N will strongly react to the bulldozing of the bill as is currently being done in the standing committee on law and justice,” he said, adding that such an enactment “will give a free hand to the looters and plunderers of the national wealth”.
“Never in the history of any civilised and democratic parliament of the world has a similar law been introduced, the basic purpose of which is to give a free hand to those who squandered and plundered public money,” he said without specifying the objectionable clauses.
SNAKE-CHARMERS FOR VACCINE: In some lighter moments of the day, Bushra Rahman, a poetess and member of the government-allied Pakistan Muslim League-Q, suggested employing snake-charmers to cure snake-bites if government hospitals in Islamabad lacked anti-venom vaccine.
Minister for Capital Administration and Development Nazar Mohammad Gondal, responding to a call-attention notice, denied any vaccine shortage, Ms Rehman, one of the five movers of the notice, said although she would not doubt the minister’s statement, the authorities should consider employing some “saperas” to treat snake-bites if there was really a shortage of vaccine.
Mr Gondal insisted that a newspaper report about vaccine shortages was wrong, but told the PML-N member: “Send them if some saperas are out of job.”