ISLAMABAD: The government has convened separate sessions of the National Assembly and Senate on Friday (today) on a notice of less than 24 hours to take up routine government business, including a debate on the presidential address to the joint sitting of parliament in September last year, amid reports that an indirect contact had been established between the government and the opposition on the issue of changes in the country’s accountability laws.
The National Assembly will go into session after a gap of 10 weeks as its previous sitting was held on October 29 last year, whereas the Senate had concluded its last session on January 18 that had been requisitioned by the opposition parties to discuss the role and performance of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) amid allegations of human rights violations and media trial of the opposition members.
The move to requisition the session has been initiated by Deputy Senate Chairman Saleem Mandviwala of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) who had lashed out at NAB through news conferences and threatened to raise the issue of the alleged human rights violations by the bureau at international forums, including the European Union and the United Nations.
Sources said a treasury member holding a top parliamentary office had approached Mr Mandviwala at the conclusion of the Senate session and informed him that the ruling PTI was willing to discuss the proposed changes in the NAB laws in order to curtail some of the powers of the accountability watchdog, particularly those related to the business community and ordinary people.
When contacted, Mr Mandviwala confirmed that he had been approached by the treasury side over the issue and said “an offer has come (from the government) that we want to do it”.
Separate sessions of National Assembly, Senate convened
He said this was the “ultimate solution” and there was no doubt about it. He said that he was not fighting for politicians, bureaucrats or government office-holders, but for an ordinary person.
Mr Mandviwala said there was pressure on the government as businessmen and traders from all over the country had been crying over NAB excesses. He said that neither the government was working properly nor was the private sector able to deliver due to NAB’s actions.
He said the government was even willing to bring changes in the NAB laws as it had introduced the NAB Amendment Ordinance last year which later lapsed.
Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Shibli Faraz and Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan, when contacted, denied that the government had made any formal contact with the opposition over the issue.
Mr Awan accused the opposition of trying to pressurise NAB by bringing it under discussion in the Senate. He said that during the more than two-week session, the opposition did not come up with any concrete proposal on the issue of reforms in NAB, police or judiciary and they merely used the occasion to deliver political speeches.
Mr Awan said the government stood by its stated position that parliament was the only forum for such a discussion and was ready to introduce reforms in NAB’s working, but the cases against the opposition leaders would not be closed and NAB could not be abolished.
He advised the opposition to move proposals or bring legislation to parliament in the sessions starting on Friday if it was serious on the matter.
It is after a gap of nearly six months that such a contact has been established as the talks between the government and the opposition on the issue had hit a snag on July 29 last year when the government had rejected most of the opposition-proposed amendments to the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) at the time of passage of the legislation related to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
When the opposition members announced their decision to boycott a meeting of the special parliamentary committee on legislation at a press conference on July 29 last year, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who was also head of the committee, announced the breakdown of talks on the floor of the National Assembly and alleged that the opposition wanted to have a “package deal” through clubbing of FATF and NAO bills, whereas the government had requested it to delink the two issues in the larger national interest.
The foreign minister had announced that a majority of the 35 proposals jointly issued by the PPP and PML-N regarding changes in the accountability laws were not acceptable to the PTI and Prime Minister Imran Khan as these were against the party’s core principle of eliminating corruption.
Highlighting the opposition’s proposals regarding changes in the NAO, the minister had 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 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.
Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2021