ISLAMABAD: Parliamentarians from both sides of the aisle on Wednesday differed over the suggestion for an across-the-board accountability law that should apply to all state institutions, including the Judiciary and the military.

While a PML-N representative believed that across-the-board accountability was the only just and effective way to establish justice in Pakistan, the PPP supported the proposal in principle, with the caveat that this was was not the right time to hold the judiciary and the military accountable.

However, PTI claimed that the judiciary and army officers should not be made accountable because they heard sensitive cases and were fighting a war, respectively.

The discussion was based on the process for the development of a new accountability law, which is being deliberated by a parliamentary committee.

Farhatullah Babar ‘embarrassed’ by PPP’s U-Turn, Naveed Qamar says now is not the time to take up the issue

Although most political parties had initially supported the suggestion, both PPP and PTI suddenly changed their opinions over recent weeks.

However, at a round-table discussion on ‘Reforms in Accountability System of Pakistan’, organised by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat) on Wednesday, all parties made their respective cases for and against such a move.

PML-N Senator Javed Abbasi said that the Parliamentary Committee on the National Accountability Law was established after the plea bargain case of a bureaucrat from Balochistan came to light.

He said the committee had made progress and developed a political consensus on the draft National Accountability Commission act, but lately political considerations seemed to have made parties reconsider their positions.

“It will be parliament’s biggest failure if it fails to legislate on a new, effective, credible accountability law for all. If the existing systems of internal accountability were working in Pakistan, we would have been a corruption-free country today,” he said.

Though PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar supported the proposal, his party colleague Syed Naveed Qamar said this was not the party’s policy.

Mr Babar said that issues relating to corruption should only be under the domain of one institution, which should apply across-the-board.

“The agreement against across-the-board accountability is akin to the surrender in East Pakistan on Dec 16. I was surprised and embarrassed after hearing that my party had joined others in parliament that were saying that the accountability law should not be extended to all institutions of the state,” he said.

However, Mr Qamar admitted that it was not fair that one segment of society was tried in one way and others in another way. Since the military establishment takes its budget from the national exchequer, it has to be accountable. But he insisted that now was not an appropriate time to discuss this.

PTI legislator Shafqat Mahmood said that his party believed that the ambit of the existing NAB law was too wide and focus should have been on public office-holders only. He said his party did not change its policy overnight, adding that they discussed this important issue for over “an hour and a half” to reach this conclusion.

Former interior minister retired Lt Gen Moinuddin Haider said the NAB law followed good practices of accountability mechanisms the world over, which also include the concept of plea bargains.

Despite starting out as an effective institution, NAB was politicised under Gen Musharraf, he claimed, adding that accountability in Pakistan should include the judiciary, military and even the media.

Former Punjab governor Shahid Hamid observed that all political parties had succumbed to pressure to not have accountability for all.

PkMAP Senator Usman Kakar said it was ironic that the citizens of the country came under the ambit of accountability, while servants of the state were above it.

Fata MNA Shahjee Gul Afridi observed that the Constitution of Pakistan should be extended to all parts of the country, including the tribal areas.

Former Quaid-i-Azam University professor Dr Mehmoodul Hassan Butt said that the power to appoint the NAB chief should not be given to politicians, since they ended up appointing those who don’t take action against in corruption cases.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2017

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