ISLAMABAD: A day after the release of the Supreme Court’s detailed judgement in the fake bank accounts and money laundering case, the federal cabinet on Thursday decided to lift the travel ban on Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah.

A meeting of the cabinet presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan also decided to release a supplementary grant of Rs750 million to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to meet its expenses.

The meeting approved the previous government’s decision of raising the salary of the country’s president to Rs938,000 per month. The cabinet, however, could not approve the no-objection certificate (NOC) given to former army chief Gen Raheel Sharif by the defence ministry during the last Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government to work abroad.

Releases Rs750m supplementary grant to NAB; PM Imran bars three ministers from attending meeting due to suspension of their membership by ECP

Interestingly, three federal ministers — Fawad Chaudhry, Ali Zaidi and Amir Mehmood Kiani whose membership (of the National Assembly) was suspended by the Election Commission of Pakistan on Thursday — turned up at the Prime Minister Office to attend the cabinet meeting, but they were barred by the prime minister due to the ECP decision.

As a result, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, who is the government’s spokesman, could not hold the post-cabinet meeting press conference. Prime minister’s three special assistants Shahzad Akbar, Iftikhar Durrani and Yousuf Baig Mirza briefed the media on the decisions of the cabinet.

Mr Akbar confirmed after the press conference that the three federal ministers had not been allowed to attend the cabinet meeting by the prime minister.

Fake bank accounts case

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar said that in the light of the Supreme Court order, the cabinet had decided to remove the names of Mr Bhutto-Zardari and Murad Ali Shah from the Exit Control List (ECL). However, he added, the names of other 170 accused in the case would remain on the no-fly list.

He said the Supreme Court had referred the case to NAB, but the SC-appointed Joint Investigation Team had not been dissolved and it would continue to assist the anti-graft watchdog in the case. “Unlike Panama Papers leak case, the JIT will continue its work even after the closure of the case in the Supreme Court and will probe other affairs of 172 accused, including PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari and others.”

Mr Akbar said a monitoring judge from the Supreme Court would also be appointed to supervise the case. “New Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, who will take the oath of his office on Friday, will appoint the monitoring judge in the fake bank accounts case.”

He said the Supreme Court had given NAB a free hand to place the names of Mr Bhutto-Zardari and the Sindh CM again on the ECL if the bureau deemed it necessary during the investigation. “If NAB believes that both accused can fled abroad to avoid investigation, it can put their names again on ECL,” he said, adding that their names had not been removed from the case and they would continue to face investigation.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Khan indirectly criticised the PPP leaders in a tweet, wondering why they wanted removal of their names from the ECL and go abroad.

“Why are some of our lawmakers so scared of ECL? Why are they so keen to go abroad? There is so much work to be done by politicians in and for Pakistan — the land they claim to love but some cannot wait to take frequent trips abroad and lawmakers have Iqamas of residencies abroad,” he tweeted.

In another tweet, the prime minister said: “Can anyone explain this strange phenomenon to those of us who would be quite happy to remain in and work for Pakistan because we actually love Pakistan.”

NAB grant

About the decision to approve the Rs750m supplementary grant for NAB, Mr Akbar said the bureau had sought Rs1.5 billion as its share from the recoveries made in white-collar crime cases. But, he added, the government could not release that amount due restrictions imposed by the Balochistan High Court which observed that NAB had no right to get any share from recoveries.

“Now the government has no option but to announce supplementary grant for NAB. It will not be given from any share in the recoveries but from the government’s kitty,” the special assistant said.

Iftikhar Durrani said the issue of issuance of NOC to retired Gen Raheel Sharif for serving as head of the Saudi-led Muslim countries’ joint force against terrorism had not come to the cabinet as yet. “The matter is under process,” he said, while giving vague remarks on the issue.

The Supreme Court had directed the government to issue a proper NOC to Gen Sharif as the one issued by the defence ministry during the last PML-N government was not sufficient to allow him to work abroad.

In a separate decision, Prime Minister Imran Khan sought details of all international arbitrations facing the country during the last decade.

The cabinet also approved the hiring of a lawyer at a cost of $3 million to contest an international arbitration with Turkish firm Karkey which had installed a ship-mounted power plant in Karachi during the PPP government in 2008.

20 Cessna aircraft

The cabinet also decided to auction 20 Cessna aircraft of the Food Security Department of the federal government. “These aircraft were used for several purposes, including spraying of pesticides, and now they are all out of order,” said the PM’s special assistant.

The cabinet was informed that the president of the country was getting the highest salary of Rs938,000 per month under a decision taken by the last PML-N government.

Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2019