ISLAMABAD: The chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Thursday ended its meeting in protest after the panel came to know that National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal would not be attending it as he had asked a senior official to represent him with the approval of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The members, who had come to attend the special in-camera meeting which had been convened at the request of the NAB chairman, were surprised to see a letter written to National Assembly secretary Tahir Hussain by the NAB chairman’s office, telling him that the prime minister had nominated the director general (DG) NAB headquarters to represent the bureau chairman in the PAC meeting.
The opposition members blasted the NAB chairman over his behaviour and even asked PAC chairman Rana Tanveer to move a privilege motion against him in the National Assembly to make him accountable before the parliament.
The NAB chairman, who had been avoiding successive meetings despite repeated summons, had finally appeared before the PAC for the first time on Dec 7 last year, but requested to convene an in-camera meeting to review the performance of his organisation.
In-camera session was convened at Javed Iqbal’s request to review bureau’s performance
Talking to reporters after adjourning the meeting in protest, Mr Tanveer said the PAC had decided to call the NAB chairman again through a letter. He said the NAB chairman should have come and he would have to come before the PAC.
Mr Tanveer, who belongs to the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, said the meeting had been convened at the request of the NAB chairman himself. He said the NAB chairman was accountable to the parliament and he would have to be accountable for the money he had spent during his tenure.
Referring to the letter produced by the NAB DG before the committee, the PAC chairman said they would seek an explanation from the cabinet secretary if such a letter had any legal justification.
Before start of the meeting, the NAB DG told reporters that the bureau chairman would no more be attending meetings of parliamentary committees and that he (DG) had been nominated by the federal cabinet to represent Mr Iqbal in such meetings.
“In view of the statutory functions and responsibilities of the NAB chairman, the prime minister of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, has been pleased to approve that the DG Headquarters would represent the NAB chairman in his capacity as principal accounting officer (PAO), before the parliamentary committees, including the PAC, constitutional and statutory bodies,” reads the letter addressed to the NA secretary and presented before the PAC members.
Talking to reporters, Pakistan Peoples Party parliamentary leader in the Senate Sherry Rehman, MNA Syed Naveed Qamar and Senator Saleem Mandviwala said in the last PAC meeting, the NAB chairman had asked for an in-camera meeting to present the figures on the recovery from NAB proceedings and its utilisation.
Ms Rehman said since this was an extremely important subject, she and Mr Qamar had travelled all the way from Lahore to attend the meeting and for it, they had even missed the meeting of their party’s Central Executive Committee. She regretted that the NAB chairman did not turn up at the meeting despite the fact that the date had also been chosen by him.
“We received a letter stating that the PAO has been changed. Now the question arises whether the PAO would be responsible for the decisions taken by NAB? Because of this situation, we told the PAC chairman that this meeting could not take place,” she added.
“Is accountability only for politicians? NAB does not hold in-camera meetings for politicians,” she said, adding that speculations around politicians’ dealings became a regular topic in the media, without investigations, evidence or even references.
“The PAC is a vehicle for constitutional accountability but from today’s proceedings, it seems as though NAB wants to evade parliamentary accountability,” said Ms Rehman.
Mr Qamar said the NAB chairman wanted accountability for everyone, but he was not ready to present himself for accountability.
“This will set a dangerous precedent, as now every secretary can say that they are busy and instead of showing up at meetings of parliamentary panels, they can designate their role to the joint secretary and absolve themselves from accountability,” he said, adding that the NAB chairman had lost his moral authority.
Mr Mandviwala asked the PAC chairman to move a privilege motion against the NAB chairman in the National Assembly. He said since all other institutions were afraid of speaking against NAB, the parliament should come forward and play its role.
“I want to tell Rana Tanveer that he has to stand up as PAC chairman and take action,” Mr Mandviwala said, adding that he believed that the PAC so far had been lenient to NAB.
“NAB is the worst department of Pakistan. It is destroying Pakistan’s economy,” said the PPP senator.
He said the NAB chairman always made claims about huge recoveries and contributing to the national exchequer, but in the last PAC meeting, he had stated that NAB was not bound to deposit money anywhere.
Noor Alam Khan of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf also expressed surprise over NAB’s letter presented before the committee and termed it an attempt to malign the prime minister. He said such a letter should have directly come from the federal cabinet or the PM Office.
Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2022