THE conundrum that the government faced over the appointment of a new NAB chairman came down to the wire. Yesterday, a mere two days before the tenure of the incumbent — retired Justice Javed Iqbal — was to end, the president promulgated the National Accountability Bureau (Amendment) Ordinance, 2021, which allows Mr Iqbal to continue in office until his successor is appointed. That in itself makes it a person-specific ordinance.
The proposed legislation tweaks several other aspects of the National Accountability Ordinance 1999 as well, but let there be no mistake of the principal impetus behind it. The issue has become highly politicised under the PTI government. The law itself is clear: according to Section 6 of the National Accountability Ordinance 1999, now amended, the appointment is to be made by the president in consultation with the leader of the house and the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly. However, Prime Minister Imran Khan has made evident his distaste for any dialogue with the PML-N’s Shehbaz Sharif on the matter, deeming it a ‘conflict of interest’ because the latter is facing NAB cases. When the law is so unequivocal and the leader of the house so obdurate, then finding a way around the situation requires some legal acrobatics.
Thus the ordinance has devised an alternative strategy for when presumably a ‘deadlock’ of the kind now being witnessed comes about. Law Minister Farogh Nasim confirmed in yesterday’s press conference that the prime minister will indeed not be holding consultations with the leader of the opposition. Instead, the president will hold discussions with Mr Khan and Mr Sharif to that end. If there is a stalemate, the ordinance stipulates that selection will fall to a parliamentary committee set up by the National Assembly speaker.
Aside from the regrettable fact that the government has once again resorted to legislation by ordinance, the amendment by enabling an incumbent NAB chairman to continue in his post until a new one is appointed sets an extremely unhealthy precedent whereby the process can drag on indefinitely. The ordinance further amends NAO 1999 by allowing another four-year extension in the NAB chief’s tenure.
For an accountability process to have any sort of credibility — though admittedly the PTI government seems least perturbed about appearances on this score — the NAB chairman must not come across as being beholden to the government. An extension or reappointment would certainly give that impression. This has been a crisis of the government’s own making. The prime minister is consulting with the leader of the opposition on the appointment of the ECP members. There is no reason why he should not do the same in the matter of the NAB chairman. After all, Mr Sharif may be under investigation by NAB but he has yet to be convicted in any of the cases.