• Qureshi rejects proposed changes in accountability laws
• Opposition not ready to accept govt-introduced bills in existing form
• NA session extended
ISLAMABAD: The fate of crucial and much-delayed legislation related to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and changes in the accountability laws hangs in the balance as both the sides continue to stick to their positions, with the government rejecting most of the opposition-proposed amendments to the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) and the opposition refusing to accept the government-introduced FATF bills in the present form.
When the opposition members announced their decision to boycott a meeting of the special parliamentary committee at a press conference, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who is also head of the committee, chose the National Assembly floor to explain the government’s stance after breakdown of the talks between them.
Mr Qureshi spoke on the day when main leaders of the two major opposition parties — the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — were busy in parleys in Lahore.
The minister alleged that the opposition wanted to have a “package deal” whereas the government had requested it to delink the two issues in the larger national interest.
The foreign minister categorically announced that a majority of the 35 proposals jointly made by the PPP and the PML-N regarding changes in the accountability laws were not acceptable to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Prime Minister Imran Khan as these were against the party’s core principle of eliminating corruption.
The PTI’s Amjid Ali Khan adjourned the sitting soon after the foreign minister’s speech without providing an opportunity to the opposition leaders to respond.
Meanwhile, the government has extended the National Assembly session for another day, which was scheduled to be prorogued on Monday, and also changed the time of the Senate sitting from Wednesday morning to the evening, apparently in a move to get the four bills related to the FATF passed from the two houses without the support of the opposition, considering it a conducive time as most of the opposition members have already left for their native areas ahead of Eidul Azha.
Sources in the opposition told Dawn that many opposition members had already left the capital city as the Senate was earlier scheduled to be prorogued on Monday. They said as many as 10 senators from Balochistan had left Islamabad in a single flight on Tuesday.
“We are expecting that the government will make an effort to get the bills passed today (Wednesday) from the two houses, but we will resist it with full force,” declared a senior PPP leader who was a part of the negotiations between the government and the opposition.
According to the sources, the talks between the two sides broke down when a government team comprising Mr Qureshi and Law Minister Farogh Naseem, during an informal meeting before the start of the meeting of the parliamentary committee, told the opposition leaders in categorical terms that their proposals regarding changes in the NAO were unacceptable to them.
At the same time, the opposition members told the government team that they were ready to support the FATF legislations, but the bills in the present form were not acceptable to them as, they alleged, the government wanted to achieve some other objectives through these bills which contained some “anti-democratic” clauses and which had nothing to do with the FATF conditions.
Those present in the meeting from the opposition side included the PPP’s Sherry Rehman and Naveed Qamar and Khawaja Asif, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Rana Sanaullah from the PML-N.
Law Minister Naseem while talking to media confirmed the deadlock in discussion and said the FATF related legislation had to be passed before Aug 6 as it was a requirement for removing Pakistan from the grey list. He declared that the government would introduce the bills on its own before the deadline.
Speaking in the National Assembly after cancellation of the committee’s meeting, Mr Qureshi said the opposition wanted to have a “package deal” through clubbing of the FATF and NAO bills.
“The FATF legislation is time-bound whereas we have been discussing changes in NAB laws for the past 10 years,” he said.
“We have to legislate on four time barred bills and the report will go to the Asia Pacific Group of the FATF which will do its analysis and submit the report to the FATF plenary which will meet in October,” he added.
Highlighting the opposition’s proposals regarding changes in the NAO, the minister said the opposition wanted applicability of the accountability law to start from 1999, reduction in NAB chairman’s tenure, removal of money laundering from the list of cognisable offences, allowing the convicted persons to remain members of the parliament till disposal of appeals and confining the time of taking cognisance by NAB of any wrongdoing to five years.
He ridiculed the opposition’s proposal that allegations of corruption of less than Rs1 billion should not come under the NAB’s scope.
“The government does not believe in revenge but these changes are not acceptable to it,” he said, adding that with such changes the institution and the process of accountability would become meaningless.
Mr Qureshi said India had a clear policy and it was conspiring against Pakistan and trying at every forum to push Pakistan from the grey to the black list.
Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2020