Another meeting of a parliamentary committee deliberating the establishment of a National Accountability Commission ended inconclusively on Wednesday, with the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) refusing to budge on the issue while PPP leaders chose to skip the proceedings entirely.
The JI and PTI want the laws governing the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) kept as they are, fearing that the government is pushing forward the legislation to protect Nawaz Sharif and his family.
"The accountability of the family of holders of national office should also be brought within the purview of accountability laws," PTI's Shireen Mazari proposed at the meeting. "However, the government seems set on this proposal," she alleged, insinuating that the Sharif family's legal woes were influencing the government's lawmaking.
The leaders of political parties also failed to reach a consensus on the procedure of filing a corruption reference against an accused.
"We want someone other than the NAB chairman to take a decision on the filing of a reference against an accused," Law Minister Zahid Hamid said.
"We would rather that the Accountability Commission make this decision rather than the NAB chairman," he explained.
Laying out the way forward, the law minister said the decision to keep NAB in its current form or replace it with the National Accountability Commission would be taken after a vote.
"I hope that a decision will be taken regarding the delimitation of constituencies in the meeting of parliamentary leaders scheduled for today," he later said.
"The Elections Act (Amendment) Bill will also be tabled before parliament soon," he assured.
"Through an amendment, we will maintain separate voter lists for Ahmadiyya voters," he added.
The parliamentary committee has been summoned for another meeting on Friday.
Politicking on accountability
Before the 13th meeting of the committee, all parliamentary parties had agreed on a proposal for across-the-board accountability and bringing generals and judges within the purview of NAB. But the PTI and MQM suddenly took a U-turn on October 11, 2017, the 13th meeting, shattering hopes for the approval of the almost finalised bill.
The bill "does not introduce a single measure of reform that would improve the current accountability process or bring corrupt elements to task," PTI's chief whip in the National Assembly, Shireen Mazari, had said in a letter submitted on behalf of her party on October 17, the 15th meeting of the committee.
The letter also objected to the lack of a time frame for the applicability of the proposed law. It also termed the creation of a separate agency for prosecuting accountability cases "illusory and illogical", as the proposed commission will still overlook the agency and the move will not improve prosecution in corruption cases.
The PTI also questioned the retention of the 'voluntary return' clause and the proposed provision to reduce the punishment for an offender from a maximum of 14 to a maximum of seven years if the illegal gain is fully recovered.
Under Section 25 of the National Accountability Ordinance, the NAB chairman, with the approval of any accountability court, can order the release of an accused found guilty of corruption after he/she enters into a plea bargain or an agreement by returning the misappropriated money to the Bureau.
The party also objected to a proposed provision that will give the right to bail to an accused who has been in custody for more than a year without their trial being concluded.
"Considering the fact that it is extremely unlikely for any NAB trial to conclude within a year, this provision will ensure that every person accused of corruption is released on bail," the letter read.
Section 51 of the proposed bill, which says that proceedings against a person will abate if a trial is not concluded within ten years, was also questioned by the PTI, which claims: "a person who may clearly be guilty of looting public money and abuse of power can go free as a result of delay in his trial" because of the provision.
It also objected to the retention of the powers of pardon granted to the proposed commission and raised other technical and operational issues.
The JI rejected the bill in the 15th meeting of the committee, held at the Parliament House on Tuesday, October 24.
The JI’s parliamentary leader, Sahibzada Tariq Ullah, had told the committee that his party had rejected the bill because it thought that there were some flaws in it and that it did not have the requirements needed for developing a better accountability system in the country.
“Accountability laws should be improved,” he had said.
Sources close to the law minister have said that the government wants to get approved the bill by the committee and later by the Senate and National Assembly with consensus.
They said that even after the opposition of the bill by the PTI, MQM and JI, the government could get the bill approved not only by the committee but also by the two houses of parliament. But, they added, it might provide an opportunity to opposition parties to take to the streets for agitation.