NAB chairman in a position to create a serious crisis for govt?
The PTI government first retained Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal as chairman of the National Accountability Bureau by promulgating a presidential ordinance.
The move established beyond doubt that the rulers were satisfied with the hitherto performance of the former judge of the Supreme Court.
The extension in his service also saved the prime minister from holding mandatory consultations with the leader of the opposition (Shehbaz Sharif) required for the selection of the successor of the outgoing chief of the anti-graft institution.
No term was fixed for the extension, which meant that Justice Javed Iqbal will stay in office till the appointment of his successor.
The Supreme Judicial Council was the forum empowered to remove the incumbent NAB chairman. But for that purpose, the procedure laid down for the removal of a Supreme Court judge was to be followed.
But now the latest ordinance issued by the government transfers this power to the president, a Karachi dentist who was PTI’s secretary-general before being elected as the head of state after the 2018 general elections.
According to Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, now the removal of the NAB chairman is the president’s discretion. (He made the statement as media persons said that since the president acts of the prime minister’s advice, the power to remove the NAB chairman has actually gone to Mr Imran Khan).
The latest ordinance also gives back to NAB jurisdiction a number of matters earlier taken out of its domain.
Now all proceedings -- including inquiries, investigations, references or trials commenced under the ordinance prior to October 6 in relation to an offence under the Anti-Money Laundering Act, 2010, shall be dealt with in accordance with the provisions of the ordinance, which existed prior to 6th day of October 2021. In relation to any proceedings – including reference or trial – accountability courts shall have the jurisdiction to enforce the anti-money laundering act.
It will not be wrong to say that now the NAB chairman has come under dual pressure.
On one hand, his term of service remains undefined and on the other, the president has been given discretionary power to remove him. This means a sword of uncertainty will continue to dangle on him.
But for a government that is committed to transforming the country into a Madinah-like state, is it fair to keep the NAB chairman under such a pressure?
Secondly, should the president have the authority to remove the NAB chief, who otherwise could be removed by the Supreme Judicial Council and that too through a procedure laid down for a judge of the apex court?
Apparently, the measure means that the NAB chairman will have to dance to the tunes of the government for the longevity of his service.
But whether an independent NAB chief can/should work to please the rulers?
Can he do justice to his office in the prevailing situation when the government wants to get rid of the opposition leaders, many of whom are already facing NAB cases?
Opposition leaders allege that they are being targeted at the behest of the prime minister. The allegation just can’t be rejected after the latest ordinance.
The promulgation of a third ordinance on the same subject in one month also reflects the confusion in the government’s policy. It establishes that the government has no set direction and may do anything at any time.
The ‘credit’ for this confusion goes to the legal luminaries of the government. It establishes their incompetency.
The multiplicity of ordinances has made the government a laughing stock, both at home and abroad.
The government will have to pay a heavy political price for its failure to carry out an effective and impartial accountability process over the past three years.
The government’s apparent confidence apart, no one should forget that the NAB chairman’s vulnerability is also his strength.
What will happen if he steps down for any reason?
The seat will fall vacant and the prime minister will have to follow the same procedure that he avoided in the past to choose a new NAB chairman. He will have to hold consultations with the leader of the opposition, the man who is trying to unite all opposition parties to oust the PTI government at the earliest.
In such a situation there is no possibility of any consensus between the government and the opposition. The edifice of accountability will crumble, shattering all dreams of the PTI leaders.