ISLAMABAD: The Prime Minister’s Adviser on Finance, Hafeez Shaikh, made his debut at a parliamentary panel meeting on Friday, watching the body clear two government bills relating to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
However, the opposition blocked a crucial bill, on measures against money laundering, as it envisaged what it called a “suspicious” role for the controversial National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
The National Assembly’s committee on finance had declined to take up the government’s legislative business over absence of Mr Shaikh since he joined the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-led government in April last year.
The panel’s chairman, Faizullah of PTI, had at the last meeting threatened to resign unless the PM’s adviser attended this session.
The meeting was presided over by Jamil Ahmed Khan, another PTI legislator, in the absence of Mr Faizullah as he was reportedly in Lahore with the prime minister.
Bill about measures against money laundering blocked by opposition
Mr Shaikh was welcomed by opposition members for making his first appearance at a committee meeting.
The panel cleared with a majority vote the Limited Liability Partnership (Amendment) Bill 2020 without any hurdle while the Companies (Amendment) Bill 2020 was passed after the government allowed certain amendments proposed by the opposition MNAs.
The officials of the ministry of finance explained that similar amendments to both these laws — Limited Liability Partnership and the Companies Bills —would enable the authorities to trace the original owners of companies and businesses.
The committee blocked the clearance of the Anti-Money Laundering (Second Amendment) Bill 2020 — that the treasury benches tried to rush through with a majority.
Although the committee had two separate sessions in the day for a clause-by-clause reading of the bill, a strong fight given by majority opposition members compelled the government to defer the matter to another session on Monday.
Members of the opposition — mainly belonging to PPP and PML-N — expressed serious concern over the haste in which the government tried to rush through the bill even though the opposition had supported the government on passage of three similar bills from the National Assembly because of their importance.
Naveed Qamar and Nafeesa Shah, both PPP members, and PML-N members Ali Pervez Malik and Dr Aisha Ghaus Pasha were of the view that approval of the law in the proposed form would be catastrophic for the economy and sought exclusion of NAB’s role when other specialised law enforcement and investigation agencies were given sufficient role against money laundering.
They expressed reservations over customer due diligence (CDD) proposed in the bill, including an upper limit of Rs2 million on purchase of jewellery and gold without production of National Identity Card and for reporting to the Financial Monitoring Unit.
Finance Secretary Naveed Kamran Baloch insisted that Pakistan had been in a very precarious position in terms of the FATF grey list and had been doing all it could to get out of the list. Dr Aisha Pasha was, however, of the view that the government had been “crushing economic activity through such laws”.
Dr Shaikh said everyone wanted the country to be excluded from the grey list and Pakistan had so far completed 14 action plans and partially met the conditions of 13 others. He added that an effort had been made to address the shortcomings.
He said so far Pakistan had not been able to boost investments and exports and improve the living standards of its people.
Dr Shaikh said he respected the parliamentary committee and would also like to give a briefing on the state of the economy to the committee in a subsequent session.
He conceded that the exit from FATF grey list was a priority of all political parties and their cooperation was welcome. He agreed that it was opposition’s job to point out flaws in government’s policies and bills.
The director general of the Financial Management Unit briefed the committee on the salient features of the AML (Second Amendment) Bill, 2020 that is required to fulfill the recommendations made by the FATF.
Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2020