Opposition slammed for seeking ‘NRO plus’

Updated 30 Jul 2020

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Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi along with Adviser to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar addressing a press conference on Wednesday.—White Star
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi along with Adviser to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar addressing a press conference on Wednesday.—White Star

• PM adviser rejects proposed amendments to NAB law • FM says short time left to get out of FATF grey list

ISLAMABAD: Terming the opposition’s proposed amendments to the National Accounta­bility Ordinance (NAO-1999) an attempt to seek “NRO plus”, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Accountability and Interior Mirza Shahzad Akbar on Wednesday said the government rejected the proposals, claiming they were meant to benefit opposition leaders facing corruption references filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

Also read: Govt, opposition at loggerheads over FATF, NAB legislations

The government urges the opposition not to link the proposed amendments to the money laundering and terror financing laws related to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Mr Akbar said during a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and MNA Maleeka Bukhari.

The press conference was held at the Press Information Department soon after the National Assembly passed two FATF-related bills — the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2020 and the United Nations (Security Council) (Amendment) Bill 2020 with the consent of the opposition.

The prime minister’s adviser invited leaders of the opposition parties to sit with the government to bring improvements to the NAB laws.

But the proposals should not be case or person specific, he said.

“These (proposed amendments) are not NRO but NRO-Plus,” Mr Akbar said.

He said the opposition’s proposed amendments were meant to benefit some senior opposition leaders facing cases, including the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his sons and daughter, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif and his sons, ex-president Asif Ali Zardari and his associates involved in the fake bank account scam, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Khawaja Asif, Ahsan Iqbal, Syed Khurshid Shah, Faryal Talpur and those involved in the recent sugar scam (including PTI leader Jehangir Tareen).

“If the government signs these amendments, their cases will stand null and void,” Mr Akbar said.

Concessions-based National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) was given by former president Gen Pervez Musharraf to the opposition leaders of his era after which Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto returned to the country from their ‘self exile’ to take active part in the country’s politics.

The adviser talked about some of the amendments proposed by the opposition in NAO-1999, saying that out of 38 sections, amendments to 34 sections were suggested.

Calling the proposed amendments “34 stitches”, Mr Akbar said: “If these are accepted, NAB will become a useless entity.”

He said one of the basic demands of the opposition was that NAB should not be empowered to take up cases regarding acts and incidents that occurred before 1999, and all money laundering-related cases should be referred to banking courts.

“If this is accepted, Shahbaz Sharif’s cases, especially those related to Ramzan Sugar Mills, will be omitted,” he said, adding that another amendment also proposed that wives and children should not fall in the category of benamidars of the accused.

“It means that a person can commit corruption in the name of his wife and children,” he added.

Mr Akbar said another amendment was about abolishing willful default law, which meant that anyone could acquire heavy loans from banks and would not be answerable to anyone about it.

He said section (9) of NAO-1999 covered some 12 crimes and the opposition wanted six of them quashed.

The adviser mentioned another proposed amendment where the opposition had demanded that anyone convicted in corruption cases should not be disqualified from holding public or party offices unless a final decision on the case was taken by the review bench of the Supreme Court.

The opposition also sought abolishment of laws related to whistle-blowing so that no one could become an approver in a case and on indemnity being enjoyed by NAB officials (no case can be filed against them if they are pursuing corruption cases in good faith), the PM’s adviser said, adding that it also demanded that any evidence received from abroad should not be presented before the courts in corruption cases.

Speaking on the occasion, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the government had a very short time to pull Pakistan out of the FATF’s grey list, which was why two bills related to FATF were passed by the National Assembly. He urged the senators to also pass them during a joint session of the parliament being held today (Thursday).

“If we do not pass them, not only would we remain in the grey list, but we will also face international sanctions, economic embargoes and travel bans,” the minister said.

He said the opposition should delink FATF-related bills from NAB amendments as the government was ready to sit with the opposition for improving the bureau.

“You want us to do in 10 hours what you could not do in 10 years,” he said while referring to the amendments to NAB laws.

The foreign minister, however, said the government as well as the 22 years struggle of Prime Minister Imran Khan demanded that stern action be taken against those involved in corruption.

“We will lay strong hands on corrupt elements,” he added.

Responding to questions raised by PML-N leader Khawaja Asif on the floor of the National Assembly on Wednesday, Mr Qureshi confirmed that he was offered the foreign ministry by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif when he (Mr Qureshi) left Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

“Yes, I met Nawaz Sharif but I refused his offer and preferred Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf,” he added.

Kulbhushan Jadhav issue

Responding to allegations levelled by PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari that the government had passed an ordinance that would benefit the Indian spy in Pakistan’s custody, Kulbhushan Jadhav, Foreign Minister Qureshi said the ordinance was promulgated in line with the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) decision that required counsellor access and right of appeal to the spy.

“India wants to drag us to the ICJ again but we have followed all instructions of the international court to foil any attempt of India against Pakistan,” he said, adding that the ordinance was not Jadhav specific but would also be applicable in similar future cases.

Published in Dawn, July 30th, 2020