ISLAMABAD: Through a well-planned strategy and with covert support of opposition parties, the government on Monday managed to get two more FATF-related bills, including the Anti-Money Laundering (Second Amendment) Bill, passed from the National Assembly after a heated debate on the role of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
The assembly also passed the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) Waqf Properties Bill, besides approving the Companies (Amendment) Bill and the Limited Liability Partnership Bill which had already been passed by it last month, but the Senate later approved them with some changes.
The government had come to the house with full preparations which was evident from the attendance of the treasury members and a rare presence of almost all members of the federal cabinet, thus leaving no room for the opposition to create any difficulty for it during the passage of the bills.
On the other hand, despite having crucial legislations on the agenda, most of the Opposition members, including Opposition Leader Shahbaz Sharif and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, skipped the proceedings.
Mr Sharif preferred to address a news conference at his nearby official residence at the Ministers Enclave exactly at the time when the National Assembly was in the process of the passage of the bills.
PML-N’s parliamentary leader Khawaja Asif and party’s senior vice-president Shahid Khaqan Abbasi came to the house when the assembly had already passed three bills, and Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan had moved the motion to take up the Anti-Money Laundering Bill, which had been deferred by the government last month on the Opposition’s request.
Speaker Asad Qaiser allowed the Opposition members only to speak on the bills at the time of moving their amendments which were all rejected by the government.
In their speeches, Opposition members mostly raised objections over inclusion of NAB among the investigation agencies mentioned in the anti-money laundering bill.
PML-N’s Khawaja Asif also protested over the recent allegations by some of the ministers that the Opposition was trying to seek a deal with the government as a bargain for their support to the bills which were required to be passed by the parliament to fulfill conditions of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to steer the country out of the grey list of the countries in terms of terror financing.
Khawaja Asif said they only wanted to improve NAB laws and make it a balanced one, saying that at present the NAB laws were applicable only against Opposition.
“We are neither blackmailing you nor seeking any NRO. We have already faced NAB for two years and are ready to face it further,” he said.
The PML-N leader regretted that the Opposition wanted to see the legislations passed from the parliament with a consensus, but these were becoming “controversial due to the government’s immaturity.”
Another PML-N MNA Mohsin Shahnawaz Ranjha said they were together with the government on the issues of the national security, but “the government ministers are doing politics on it”. He said under the NAB laws, the burden of proof lied with the accused which should not be there in the money-laundering cases.
Raja Pervez Ashraf of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) expressed his concern over making the money laundering a cognisable offence and for giving powers to investigation agencies to arrest an accused person without a warrant.
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar hit out at the Opposition, alleging that the parties were only interested in saving their leadership. In his speech, he also named PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif and indirectly referred to former president Asif Zardari, saying that everybody knew as to who were those people currently facing money-laundering cases in NAB.
Mr Akbar alleged that the Opposition was not interested in defending the fundamental rights, but wanted only “personal protection”. He said the original Anti-Money Laundering Act passed in 2010 by the then PPP government already had a mention of NAB as one of the investigation agencies.
The house witnessed a rumpus when the speaker refused to give floor to PML-N’s Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to respond to Mr Akbar’s speech. The PML-N members gathered in front the dais of the speaker seeking floor for Mr Abbasi. On the other hand, some treasury members raised slogans against the opposition’s leadership and asked the speaker not to succumb to the opposition’s pressure.
The speaker later gave floor to Mr Abbasi on the condition that he would first move his amendments and then speak on them.
Mr Abbasi in his speech lashed out at Mr Akbar for taking name of Mr Sharif, saying that “a non-elected person has insulted the whole parliament”. He also opposed the NAB’s role in the money laundering cases.
Besides Mr Akbar, Law Minister Farogh Naseem defended the bill and rejected the Opposition’s objections regarding the NAB’s role, saying that it was not the present Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government which had given this role to NAB. Moreover, he said that money laundering was already a scheduled offence under NAB laws.
Earlier, members of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) opposed the ICT Waqf Properties Bill, aimed at improving and streamlining the “management, supervision and administration of Waqf properties. The bill after its passage from the Senate will put all the Waqf properties, including mosques, Khanqahs, shrines and dargahs, and contributions and donations of all kinds to these places under the control of the government.
The anti-money laundering bill gives more powers to investigating agencies in the fight against money laundering and terror financing and suggests increase in sentences and fines.
The speaker read out the prorogation order of the president soon after the passage of the bills without taking up other items on the agenda.
Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2020