Harming accountability

Published October 3, 2021

THE federal law ministry is preparing a summary to give an extension to the chairman NAB if Prime Minister Imran Khan decides on this course. The incumbent chairman retired justice Javed Iqbal will step down on Oct 8 after serving his four-year term. The current NAB law stipulates that the term of the chairman is non-extendable. It also says the appointment should entail the prime minister holding consultations with the leader of the opposition.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has stated on record that the prime minister has no plans of consulting the leader of the opposition because he is facing NAB cases and therefore this presents a conflict of interest. Since the NAB law demands such a consultation, the only way that the prime minister can avoid it is by amending the law.

Whichever way one looks at it, the government’s approach is deeply problematic. The government’s reasons for seriously considering giving the present chairman an extension in his term, or another full term, are obviously political. They should not be the primary concern for this critical appointment.

Accountability banks on credibility and trust. It can only be seen as fair and across the board if all stakeholders — especially the political parties in this case — have confidence that the process is not fuelled by vindictiveness and persecution. If this trust is lacking, the entire process becomes flawed and controversial. This is precisely why the appointment of the chairman is supposed to be finalised by the leaders of the House and opposition. By insisting on amending the law because of one person, especially when that person is already a controversial figure in view of his one-sided accountability, the government is preparing to do grievous harm to the institution of NAB as well as the process of accountability. The opposition has already said it will take the matter to court if the government proceeds with its plans to retain the current chairman beyond his mandated term. The controversy will ignite even further and tarnish the image of the government as well as of NAB.

It would be far better for the government to abandon these ill-conceived plans, allow Mr Iqbal to honourably retire and consult the leader of the opposition to appoint a capable and well-reputed person as the new chairman of NAB. This would ensure that no person-specific legislation is done, and confidence is restored in the process of accountability. However for this to happen, the government will need to think beyond its partisan agenda. From the looks of it, this appears a big ask. The courts will then invariably get dragged into the matter and the tense political atmosphere will vitiate even more. The prime minister’s legal team, including the law minister and the attorney general, should rise to the occasion and stop the government from blundering into a bad decision.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2021

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