ISLAMABAD: Opposition and treasury members continued their tirade against each other over corruption allegations on the floor of the National Assembly on Wednesday as the former asked the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to arrest all those, including Prime Minister Imran Khan, against whom it was conducting inquiries.
The house witnessed ruckus for a brief period when Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry took the floor and started assailing the opposition in his usual style. The opposition members also interrupted Minister of State for Communications Murad Saeed when he lashed out at the opposition for allegedly ruining the country through corruption and money laundering.
The opposition members protested against the arrest of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) MNA Khawaja Saad Rafique by NAB, asking the speaker to issue his production orders.
When the opposition members lambasted NAB for allegedly becoming a tool in the hands of the rulers for “suppressing” the opposition, the ministers came to defend the anti-graft watchdog, saying NAB would not be asked to stop the accountability process.
Opposition seeks arrest of ruling party members facing NAB inquiries
It all started when taking advantage of leniency of Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri allowing the members to speak on any matter on points of order, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi drew the attention of the house to the arrest of MNA Khawaja Saad Rafique and his brother Salman Rafique in a housing scam and alleged that NAB was being used to suppress opposition. He challenged the government’s claim that it was not behind NAB in its ongoing witch-hunt of the opposition members and asked it to tell the nation as to who was behind this campaign, if the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) was not backing it.
“We are not against an accountability process. But if accountability will be used as a tool for political revenge and to crush the opponents then democracy will be under threat,” Mr Abbasi declared.
He said even an accused in a murder case was not kept under detention for 60-day remand, but regretted that leader of the opposition Shahbaz Sharif had been on remand for 64 days despite the fact that no charges had been proved against him.
The former premier said the Supreme Court had ordered that there should be no media talk on any case before filing of a formal reference, but the NAB chairman and other officials were openly discussing the cases and naming the opposition members in violation of Article 10-A of the Constitution, granting the right of fair trial to the citizens.
“If NAB is to arrest the people without evidence then it should arrest members from both the sides (the government and the opposition),” he said, adding that NAB should also arrest the prime minister as it was holding an inquiry against him in a case related to misuse of official helicopter.
Then Mr Abbasi kept naming the PTI leaders who were facing NAB inquiries, asking the watchdog to also arrest Aleem Khan, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, Babar Awan, Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and the prime minister’s sister Aleema Khan if it wanted to prove its neutrality. He said if NAB had used same yardstick in pursuing the cases which it had been using for the opposition, then more than 70 per cent members of the present cabinet would go behind bars.
The former prime minister asked the speaker to protect the parliamentarians like the military and judiciary so that no institution could coerce them and force them to change their loyalties.
Endorsing Mr Abbasi’s opinion, PPP lawmaker Syed Naveed Qamar said efforts were afoot to establish a one-party rule in the country. He said if NAB was allowed to continue its activities, then it seemed that next sessions of the assembly would have to be convened in Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi.
“Opposition members are jailed in dictatorships, not democracies,” he added.
Referring to the cases against former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, he said after failing to prove charges, people were being coerced to become approvers.
When Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry took the floor to respond the opposition’s remarks, the house witnessed a rumpus due to the opposition’s noisy protest in anticipation that the minister would once again use the occasion to malign them.
And Mr Chaudhry in his usual style reprimanded the opposition, alleging that they were “jumping on their seats” as they knew that next it would be their turn. He said Saad Rafique was arrested by NAB when the Lahore High Court cancelled his bail. He said all the cases being faced by the opposition members had been registered when Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Nawaz Sharif were the prime ministers. He said the PPP and the PML-N remained in power for 10 years, but they did not review the NAB laws.
Mr Chaudhry said the PTI would have no right to stay in power if it failed to recover the looted public money. He claimed that the government was not influencing NAB, which was headed by a person nominated by the PPP and the PML-N. “Let the NAB and courts do their jobs. Making the process of accountability controversial will not benefit,” he added.
Federal Minister for Higher Education Shafqat Mehmood said the parliament should not be used as a shield to protect corruption.
Minister of State for Communications Murad Saeed suggested that this house should pass a resolution that whosoever had looted even a penny of this nation should be “hanged on D-Chowk”. The minister claimed that “seven members” of the opposition had approached him for a National Reconciliation Ordinance-like deal.
When the opposition asked him to name the persons, he simply said: “One of them is sitting in the house right now.”
Former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in his apparent reference to a recent NAB notice to PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said accountability process had become so advanced in Pakistan that even the children of one year could face inquiries. He said all parliamentarians could face corruption charges for doing no legislative work and wasting the public money.
Balochistan National Party chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal was of the opinion that besides discussing “financial corruption”, they should also think about “political corruption” that had been going on since 1947. “Will there be accountability of those who have been forcing politicians to change their loyalties? Who are behind breaking political parties and removing elected governments? Can anyone tell which is the supreme authority in the country?” he asked.
Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2018