Govt, opposition at loggerheads over FATF, NAB legislations

Updated 29 Jul 2020

Email

Former prime minister and senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi addressing the media in Islamabad. — DawnNewsTV
Former prime minister and senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi addressing the media in Islamabad. — DawnNewsTV

The opposition and the government on Tuesday failed to reach a consensus on legislation related to the action plan of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and a proposal to amend the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO).

Addressing the media in Islamabad after the opposition staged a walk-out out of a parliamentary committee meeting with the government, former prime minister and senior PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said: "The bill concerning the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) which the government had brought, we said that it was the same as before [...].

"We said that this can't be accepted and it was then decided that the bill concerning the NAO [National Accountability Ordinance], would be debated section by section and a new amendment bill will be finalised."

This discussion took place yesterday, he said, adding that once it was wrapped up, the government had said it would inform the opposition of their stance today (on Tuesday).

"Today the meeting happened and we were told that the government does not agree with these amendments.

"We questioned which amendments they had an issue with, but they didn't have an answer. So we said that if they can't talk on the amendments in good faith, when they were the ones to bring the bills, then we can't move forward," he said.

"Because the government isn't talking in good faith and because their intentions, I don't think, are for working in national interest, we walked out of the meeting," he said.

Last week, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had said that the government and members of the opposition will meet this week to discuss draft laws concerning the FATF action plan and NAB.

On Monday, the proposed amendments to the FATF-related United Nations (Security Council) Bill 2020, Anti Terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2020 and NAO came under discussion at the second meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Legislative Business presided over by the foreign minister.

Earlier today, Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry questioned the effectiveness of amendments to the NAO if they were deliberated upon by members of the National Assembly currently facing charges by the anti-corruption watchdog.

"I think that members facing NAB charges should distance themselves from the committee, out of respect for the parliament."

'Opposition's changes unacceptable to PTI'

Meanwhile, the foreign minister said on the floor of the NA that the opposition had linked changes to the NAB law with the FATF-related legislation.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi addressing the National Assembly. — DawnNewsTV
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi addressing the National Assembly. — DawnNewsTV

"When the PTI came into power, Pakistan was already on the FATF grey list," he said, adding that he had "no doubt" over the opposition's patriotism. "Everyone wants the sword hanging over Pakistan to be removed," he said.

"We are trying to bring Pakistan out of the grey list through diplomatic engagement. This is an issue of national security. At the last meeting in Paris, our efforts were lauded but we have to fulfill some more conditions which require legislation.

"We require the cooperation of the opposition," he said, adding that the government had introduced four bills. "These bills are time-bound; if we pass these bills today then our case will be reviewed by October."

Yesterday, during a talk with media personnel, Qureshi had said FATF-related legislation needed to be done before Aug 3 while "amendments to the NAO can be done any time after due deliberations."

But the opposition wants to club the FATF and NAB bills, he said in the house today. "The FATF legislation is time-bound whereas we have been discussing changes in NAB's laws for the past 10 years," he maintained.

The government had handed over the draft of the NAB amendment bill which was mostly based on the ordinance that had been promulgated previously, he said. "The opposition termed it a non-starter and gave us their own draft with 35 amendments."

Most of these, the foreign minister said, are not acceptable to us. "The draft was also presented to the premier and there was an exchange of views."

I presented to the opposition the stance of the government and the party, he said. "Briefly, I told them that the changes they wanted were not acceptable for the PTI because our core agenda/principle is anti-corruption.

"If legislation is carried out on these 35 changes in this form then the institution and the process of accountability will become meaningless.

"We have to make a law for prosperity, keeping in mind public interest," he said.

Elaborating on some of the changes proposed, Qureshi said the opposition had suggested the anti-graft watchdog only take up cases involving corruption of more than Rs1 billion.

"The opposition also wants that the bureau shouldn't have powers to take up cases reported before November 1999. They also want NAB to only take notice of corruption cases reported in the last five years."

He stated that the opposition also wished to end NAB's powers to take up cases of willful default and loan write-offs.

"If accepted, these proposals will kill the basic concept of accountability. Imran Khan will never compromise on the issue of corruption, which is also the PTI's core policy."

He urged the opposition to not link the two matters in larger national interest and to support the FATF-related legislation.

The NAO amendment bill reportedly seeks to spare public office holders from NAB action for any step taken in “good faith”. The NAO amendment bill proposes omitting the word “non-extendable” from clause (i) of sub-section (b) of Section 6 that pertains to the tenure of the NAB chairman that is currently four years.

It has also been suggested that extension in tenures of the NAB deputy chairman and prosecutors general of accountability, who are appointed for three years, be allowed by removing the word “non-extendable” from Sections 7 and 8.