Prime Minister’s outburst being viewed as pressure tactic

ISLAMABAD: The Prime Minister’s outburst against National Accountability Bureau’s (NAB) is being viewed as a pressure tactic as his options in the short term are limited to moving a reference to the supreme judicial council for removal of the head of the top anti-graft constitutional body, a move which may not be successful.

According to legal experts, the Prime Minister cannot take an action against the NAB chairman lawfully, as the Supreme Judicial Council is the only legal authority where head of the Bureau could be challenged after allegations of misconduct levelled against his authority in a reference moved by the government are proved to be valid.

They pointed out that under the law the procedure of removal of the NAB chairman is similar to removal of a judge of the Supreme Court against whom a reference comprising charges of misconduct could be sent to Supreme Judicial Council for further action.

According to Article 6 of the NAB ordinance, “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”.

“The Prime Minister cannot take any direct action against NAB chairman unless moving a reference of misconduct to Supreme Judicial Council. Secondly, the government can bring an amendment in the existing laws, which is a long process,” said Babar Sattar, a senior legal expert. In the medium term, the government can legislate to curtail NAB’s powers but would require a two-third majority in parliament for its passage.

As the government does not enjoy a two-third majority in both houses of the parliament, Sattar pointed out that in case it succeeded in passing it from National Assembly with the support of its allies, it would also require the same number in a PPP-dominated Senate. If it failed to pass the amendment from the Senate, he said, the government is then required to summon a joint sitting of the parliament.

He further pointed out that the chairman NAB is tenure-based constitutional position of four years and cannot be removed directly. “I don’t think the government is really going after the NAB chairman, it seems to be employing pressure tactics to take account of government sensibilities,” he added.

The incumbent chairman NAB Major Chaudhry Qamar Zaman (Retd) was appointed to the office on October 10, 2013 and is due to retire in October 10, 2017. The opposition political parties criticized the Prime Minister’s remarks against the NAB, terming it politically motivated to save the skin of his party’s “corrupt” elements against whom the Bureau has indicated it would take action.

Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP) Senator Farhatullah Babar, while reacting to the Prime Minister’s criticism on NAB, said that it seems the statement of the Prime Minister was not a principled stance but dictated by politically-motivated expediency. “The PML-N criticized the PPP when it accused NAB of transgressing its authority [in Sindh], now when the NAB has indicated it may take action against some corrupt elements in Punjab, they have started speaking against the body,” he added.

Asked whether PPP will support any amendment in NAB ordinance if brought by the PML-N government, Babar said the party will examine and study any possible amendment before taking the decision to support it. He pointed out that PPP has already moved an amendment in the NAB ordinance to curtail the powers of the Bureau and it was passed by the Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice.

The amendment, he said, suggests limiting the powers of the NAB only to departments coming under the federal government. MQM’s senior leader Colonel Tahir Hussain Mashhadi (Retd) said that the NAB is not an ordinary institution and it enjoys constitutional protection. “NAB is not under the Prime Minister. It’s a constitutional body and the statement given by the Prime Minister is morally wrong,” he added. PTI’s Dr Arif Alvi said that the Prime Minister’s remarks against the NAB were ‘inappropriate’; adding the Prime Minister’s outburst against the Bureau came following an action against his party members.

“The NAB came into action on the directives of Supreme Court and the Prime Minister’s statement at this stage was just inappropriate,” he added. Responding to a question about any expected amendment in the NAB laws, he said that his party’s support to any such amendment depends on the nature of the amendment, adding that the party has to see what kind of amendment the PML-N would move and then decide.

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