Last judgement

Published September 17, 2023

WHEN amendments were being made last year to the National Accountability Ordinance — that dreaded and flawed law that has been the bane of so many public representatives — this publication had opposed the manner in which the changes had been legislated.

Capitalising on the absence of the country’s largest political party from parliament, the PDM government had, in connivance with the friendly opposition in the National Assembly, given its leaders blanket relief by gutting the accountability laws under which they were being tried.

To be clear, this paper had long agreed with the general consensus that Pakistan’s accountability laws had been in dire need of reform. It had, however, opposed the self-serving manner in which the ‘reforms’ were eventually executed.

To most, it had been clear that the PDM government was only concerned with ‘fixing’ the law to benefit certain political leaders and had little interest in improving the country’s accountability regime.

But should this have necessitated what has been seen as yet another intervention by the Supreme Court in parliament’s business? To contextualise, is retired chief justice Umar Ata Bandial’s last judgement, striking down many of the amendments made to the National Accountability Ordinance, justified?

There are some who believe so, especially as they see the amendments as having been imposed by an ‘illegitimate’ legislature and which effectively dismantled the country’s entire accountability apparatus for the sake of narrow interests.

It may be recalled that this publication, too, had warned the PDM government last year that reforming the accountability laws necessitated the creation of a new, improved system of checks and balances, which the decision-makers of the time had conveniently overlooked.

Perhaps, had such a system been introduced, the court would not have resorted to the option of resurrecting the original NAB law and, with it, the charges that our political leaders had been seeking to flee. But this is a separate debate.

Turning back to the question, it is difficult not to agree with the dissenting judge in this case, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, in that the court overstepped its jurisdiction to arrive at its judgement. “What parliament has done, parliament can undo,” Justice Shah pointed out in his dissenting note.

It must be recalled that it was the PTI’s decision to quit parliament that allowed these amendments to pass unhindered. By the same token, it ought to have taken it upon itself as a responsibility to have the offending amendments repealed via the same forum.

Instead, former prime minister Imran Khan once again relied on the Supreme Court to achieve what he could not, and the court once again delivered where it, perhaps, should not have. Status quo ante serves no one, and NAB is once again in a position to revive its old ways.

Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2023

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