Why this haste?

The promulgation of the National Accountability (Amendment) Ordinance (2010) last month and now its tabling in the National Assembly for approval has raised many questions. Members of PML-N and PML-Q walked out of the National Assembly to protest amendments to the accountability law through an ordinance. Although the president enjoys the power to promulgate ordinances, it is meant for use in urgent situations, when parliament is not in session. The president signed the ordinance on September 8 when the parliamentary session was about to take place. Secondly, it is surprising to see the law minister seeking parliamentary approval for this ordinance, when the draft of the National Accountability Commission 2010 Bill has been under discussion by the National Assembly Standing Committee on Law and Justice since last year. The bill has been languishing in the committee as the government showed little interest to incorporate changes suggested by opposition parties to pave the way for an impartial and across the board accountability mechanism autonomous of government influence. Opposition to this new ordinance is hardening with the government finding it increasingly hard to defend it. The other day, PPP Senator Mian Raza Rabbani also staged a walk out against the ordinance along with the PML-N, revealing that even PPP parliamentarians had not been taken into confidence before its tabling. Now PML-Q and Jamaat-i-Islami have also joined the chorus against what is being termed as a cloak-and-dagger move by the government to manipulate the accountability process.

While it may be true, as Federal Law Minister Dr Babar Awan contended on the floor of the house, that the government followed the procedure in issuing this ordinance, what makes it suspicious are the timing and the context in which it has been promulgated. With the government in the dock on the issue of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) verdict implementation, it is being seen by its critics as a step to keep the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) under government control. The changes introduced in the accountability law will impact how the NRO cases are handled, whose Damocles’ sword is still hanging over the government’s head as October 13, the next date of hearing, approaches. The government now has the power to transfer cases from one accountability court to another. In case the SC upholds its order of reopening of NRO cases, the government will have room for manoeuvre.

What makes the government think that tabling the ordinance in the National Assembly now would save it from the criticism of the opposition parties? Even if we concede for the sake of argument that the government had no ulterior motive behind this move, the timing of this amendment on the eve of October 13 makes it seem highly suspicious. When the government has a solid case to plead before the court, why should it feel insecure and end up looking manipulative? This is not doing any good to the cause of the government. At a time when utmost caution and wisdom should be exercised in handling the situation, shenanigans such as these would alienate even the erstwhile supporters of the government. It has provided more grist to the rumour mill of ‘change’ in the political set-up. The government should abandon the idea of making this ordinance an act of parliament. Instead, it should create consensus on the National Accountability Commission 2010 Bill and table it for approval as soon as possible – Dailytimes