ISLAMABAD: The recently-prepared draft bill for the National Accountability Commission (NAC), which is meant to replace the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999, proposes that only serving and retired judges of the Supreme Court should head the commission.

Under the NAO, not only judges of the apex court, but also senior bureaucrats and retired military officials were eligible to become NAB chairperson. This is one of the few changes proposed in the NAC bill, while most of the NAO 1999 has been retained.

The draft bill prepared by the government has been rejected by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Muttahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM), despite consensus among other mainstream parliamentary parties, including the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the main opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

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The PTI and the MQM had parted ways in the Parliamentary Committee on NAB Laws in its 13th meeting on the issue of bringing judges and generals under the purview of the NAC. The PPP had proposed that judges and generals should also fall under the definition of public office-holders.

As the PTI and MQM had rejected the special provision of public office-holders, it was not made a part of the draft bill, and could not be introduced in the National Assembly and the Senate.

The NAC draft bill says: “The NAC shall comprise a chairperson, deputy chairperson, member (legal) and member (accounts). The chairperson will be a serving judge of the Supreme Court and the deputy chairperson will be a serving judge of a high court.

“In case a serving judge of the Supreme Court or high court is not available for appointment as chairperson or deputy chairperson, a retired judge of the apex or high court may be appointed as chairperson or deputy chairperson.” It says the commission’s decisions will be expressed in terms of majority and, in case of equal votes, the chairperson will have a casting vote.

Regarding the mode of appointment of the chairperson, deputy chairperson and members, the bill says they will be nominated by the prime minister in consultation with the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, and in case of the chairperson and deputy chairperson, with consent of the nominated judge and with the concurrence of the chief justice and the chief justice of the high court concerned, respectively. Provided that where a retired judge of the Supreme Court or high court is to be appointed as chairperson or deputy chairperson, as the case may be, his or her nomination shall be referred to for confirmation to a parliamentary committee constituted under section 6.

The bill says the parliamentary committee shall confirm the nomination in a meeting to be held within 15 days of the receipt of the reference by the committee in accordance with such procedure as may be prescribed.

“After confirmation by the parliamentary committee chairman, deputy chairman and members shall be appointed by the prime minister for a term of three years each and shall not be eligible for any extension of tenure or for re-appointment,” it adds.

Under the existing NAO, the term of the chairperson, deputy chairperson and prosecutor general is four years.

The NAC bill says that the chairperson and deputy chairperson will continue to be entitled to the same salary and privileges as those granted to a judge of the Supreme Court and a judge of high court.

It says the parliamentary committee shall be constituted by the speaker of the National Assembly in consultation with the Senate chairperson, and shall consist of six members from the treasury benches and six from opposition parties in equal number from the Senate and the National Assembly. The committee will make its own rules of procedure, including the manner of electing its chairperson.

Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2017