Opposition tried to exploit govt over FATF legislation: Shibli

ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Information Shibli Faraz on Sunday posted on his official Twitter account the drafts of the proposals made by the opposition parties for bringing changes to the country’s accountability laws, terming them a “proof” of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s claim that the opposition had tried to make a bargain with the government during negotiations on the FATF legislation.

On the other hand, the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) refuted the minister’s claim, stating that the changes in the accountability laws had come under discussion at a parliamentary committee constituted by National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser on the legislative business.

In his tweet, the minister said he was posting the documents as “the PML-N limited” had been asking the government to tell the nation as to who had sought an “NRO” — a term frequently used for “deal”.

Former military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf had issued the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) in 2007 after an agreement with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) to end all politically motivated cases against the politicians.

Mr Faraz posted three pages of the draft proposals submitted by the opposition seeking amendments to the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999 through which, according to him, the opposition was actually seeking an end to the cases against its leadership, saying “these are the documents through which the opposition sought an NRO”.

PML-N says changes in laws discussed by panel formed by NA speaker

Through one of the amendments to Section 18, he said, the opposition had suggested a five-year time frame for the National Accounta­bility Bureau (NAB) to take cognisance of any wrongdoing.

The proposed amendment says: “NAB shall not conduct any inquiry or investigation or file any reference for an alleged offence after the passage of five years from the date of the transaction or act constituting the offence.”

The document shows that the opposition has also proposed a new sub-section suggesting that “NAB shall not initiate action on allegations contained in a complaint which is anonymous or pseudonymous”.

The opposition has also proposed, according to the documents, that NAB shall not tale action in cases which do not involve public money and where the “amount involved is less than Rs1 billion”.

Mr Faraz also posted an amendment to Section 25 suggested by the opposition, which says: “Where at any time during inquiry or after the authorisation of investigation, before or after the commencement of the trial or during the pendency of an appeal, the holder of public office or any other person offers to return to NAB the assets or gains acquired or made in the course, or as a consequence of any offence under this ordinance, the chairman NAB may in his discretion, after taking into consideration the facts and circumstances of the case, accept the offer on such terms and conditions as he may consider necessary, and if the holder of public office or any other person agrees to return to NAB the amount determined by the NAB chairman, who shall then refer the case for the approval of the court or the case may be, for the release of the holder of public office or any other person as well as his co-accused.”

Though Mr Faraz made these documents public on Sunday, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who is the head of the Special Parliamentary Committee on Legislative Business, had already disclosed most of the details of the opposition’s proposals on the floor of the National Assembly last month, declaring that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government had rejected them.

It was after the foreign minister’s statement in the assembly that the opposition later boycotted the parliamentary committee which was basically reviewing the laws that had been introduced by the government to meet the conditions of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), alleging that the minister had made public the discussion which was held in an informal meeting at the residence of the speaker.

The opposition had also announced that it would not hold negotiations with the government if the foreign minister was present in it. Later, the government and the opposition agreed on the FATF laws in the talks in which the government side was represented by Law Minister Farogh Naseem.

Mr Qureshi in his fiery speech in the assembly had alleged that the opposition wanted to have a “package deal” whereas the government had requested it to delink the FATF legislation and the NAB issue in the larger national interest.

The foreign minister categorically announced that a majority of the 35 proposals jointly made by the PPP and PML-N regarding changes in the accountability laws were not acceptable to the PTI and Prime Minister Imran Khan as these were against the party’s core principle of eliminating corruption.

Highlighting the opposition’s proposals regarding changes in the NAO, the minister had said the opposition wanted applicability of the accountability law to start from 1999, reduction in NAB chairman’s tenure, removal of money laundering from the list of cognisable offences, allowing the convicted persons to remain members of parliament till disposal of appeals and confining the time of taking cognisance by NAB of any wrongdoing to five years.

He had ridiculed the opposition’s proposal that allegations of corruption of less than Rs1 billion should not come under the NAB’s scope.

Opposition’s response

Interestingly, no one from the PPP or the PML-N denied the government’s claim about their proposals.

A senior PPP leader told  media that these proposals had been under discussion at various levels among the parties for the last more than 10 years and that the party had only discussed the changes in the NAB laws in the parliamentary committee at the request of the government.

PML-N lawmaker Khwaja Asif responded to the foreign minister’s speech the following day in the National Assembly, but did not talk about their specific proposals which had been mentioned by the minister. He simply alleged that the minister had “crossed all the limits of propriety” by disclosing the details of an informal meeting that was held at the speaker’s residence. He was of the opinion that there was no need for bringing the informal discussion on record.

Meanwhile, in response to the information minister’s tweet, PML-N information secretary and MNA Marriyum Aurangzeb said that the “incompetent PTI government did not have a clue on how to go about the FATF-related legislation which is why the parliamentary committee was constituted by the speaker to review the legislation

She said the approval of the special committee had been given by parliament. “Did the speaker ask for an NRO or did the entire parliament?” she asked.

She reiterated the challenge to Prime Minister Khan and “his stooges” to name those who had asked for an NRO. She said “the selected prime minister” had no power or authority to grant an NRO.

Ms Aurangzeb, who had also served as the information minister in the previous PML-N government, said: “This document waving and tweeting by Shibli Faraz shows his clear absence of confidence in the speaker.”

She said the information minister’s statements were an open indictment of the parliamentary committee which also included the government members wanted in the Mallam Jabba case, Peshawar BRT, Billion Tree Tsunami project, helicopter case, 23 secret accounts, foreign funding case, sugar and wheat theft and corruption.

Ms Aurangzeb said the opposition members had already braved “illegal custody and imprisonment” by NAB in death row cells and had been vindicated by the Supreme Court and high courts. Moreover, she said, the international rights bodies had already issued a charge sheet against “the NAB-Niazi alliance” for being an instrument of political engineering and victimisation.

“Will the opposition demand an NRO under all these circumstances or those who have been dodging NAB and the courts, including the president and the prime minister?” she asked.