LAHORE: Though the non-extendable four-year tenure of National Accountability Bureau chairman Javed Iqbal is ending early next month, Prime Minister Imran Khan is not willing to consult the Leader of Opposition in National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif for the appointment of a new head of the anti-graft watchdog as he (Sharif) is an accused in corruption references filed against him by NAB.
“The government has decided in principle not to consult opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif for the appointment of NAB chairman since he (Sharif) is an accused in several corruption references filed by the bureau (in accountability courts),” federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told Dawn on Saturday.
Fawad says opposition leader is accused in bureau’s cases
“How can the premier consult a NAB’s accused on this matter?” the minister asked and added the government was weighing other legal options for the appointment of NAB chairman.
When asked whether the government was considering giving extension in the tenure of retired Justice Javed Iqbal or appoint him again, Mr Chaudhry said: “I neither deny nor confirm this.”
Last month, PM Khan had written a letter to Shehbaz Sharif for the appointment of members to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). Mr Sharif on Friday replied to it, proposing six names for vacant ECP posts.
Under the NAB Ordinance, the prime minister has to consult the opposition leader for the appointment of NAB chairman.
The ordinance says: “There shall be a Chairman NAB to be appointed by the President in consultation with the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly for a non-extendable period of four years on such terms and conditions as may be determined by the President and shall not be removed except on the grounds of removal of Judge of Supreme Court of Pakistan.”
Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, president of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, told Dawn that it would be ‘illegal’ if the government did not consult the opposition leader for the appointment of NAB chairman.
To a question about the government’s plea that the opposition leader was a NAB suspect, Mr Mehboob said: “There is no issue of being a NAB suspect or accused. Unless the opposition leader is convicted the premier can consult him on the matter in accordance with law.”
He further said that not only the NAB ordinance demanded consultation with the opposition leader but also there was a decision of the apex court in this regard. “To consult the opposition leader for the purpose is not a choice but a legal binding,” he maintained.
Mr Mehboob said if the government decided to bring an ordinance for the extension of the NAB chairman’s tenure or his re-appointment or make such a law through an act of parliament it would be challenged in the Supreme Court.
Shehbaz Sharif, who is also the president of PML-N, is facing NAB cases related to money laundering, assets beyond means, Ashiyana Housing and Ramzan Sugar Mills. He has been on bail in these references. He had remained in jail for about a year in these cases.
The PML-N has termed NAB action against Mr Sharif and other party leaders “political victimisation” by the “NAB-Niazi alliance” against the opposition. Similarly, the other major opposition party -- PPP -- is also not happy with the NAB under Mr Iqbal and says it has been acting at the behest of PM Khan.
The outgoing chairman was embroiled in a video scandal following which the opposition demanded an independent probe into it. A television channel owned by a then adviser of Prime Minister Khan had run the controversial video of the chairman. However, the government had not taken any action except removing the adviser.
Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2021