NAB ‘swansong’: Opposition’s help sought to probe charge
ISLAMABAD, Dec 13: The government sought opposition’s cooperation in the National Assembly on Thursday to probe what could be a shock swansong of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) claiming billions of rupees lost daily in government corruption – but immediate response from the main opposition party was mixed.
Khursheed Ahmed Shah, chief whip of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party and religious affairs minister, said opposition lawmakers would be invited along with many other “stakeholders” to contribute to a ministerial committee’s investigation of the veracity of the NAB claim of up to Rs7 billion a day of government corruption at both federal and provincial levels in the country and to suggest remedies, if it were true.
But a prominent lawmaker of the PML-N, who first raised the issue in the house, described the formation of the four-member committee by the cabinet at its meeting on Wednesday a mere lip-service and “waste of time”, which he said should not be pursued while the government was left with only three months of its tenure.
But another PML-N member, who also sits on a front bench like Khawaja Asif and spoke after his more senior colleague had left the house, asked the government to go ahead with the exercise “very seriously” and make the committee “meaningful” so some improvement of the situation could come about in the interest of good governance in the future.
The Musharraf-era NAB, which has to be wound up soon after the expected passage of a new accountability law this month, had first come with a claim of a Rs6-7 billion worth of daily corruption, which the PPP-led coalition government perceived as part of a calculated pre-election campaign to discredit it and sought to counter it by forming the probe committee of the ministers for finance, law, information and defence.
More eyebrows are likely to be raised about the timing of the claim of the NAB chairman, Admiral (retd) Fasih Bokhari, by his decision to bring forward the date of a promised paper to substantiate his charge from Friday to Thursday when he released only a 2-1/2-page draft at a news conference.
It was in October last year that Admiral Bokhari got the job, which he is bound to lose when the NAB is replaced by a proposed more high-level and independent Accountability Commission under the new bill, which is likely to be taken up by the current sessions of National Assembly and Senate.
Mr Khursheed Shah said though the NAB chief had talked of corruption in whole of Pakistan, including the provincial governments, the federal government was alarmed and set up the committee to invite all stakeholders and look into the charge, which he said put the annual loss to more than Rs2.5 trillion compared to the federal budget of Rs3trn.
He told the house the probe committee would meet on Friday and, addressing the opposition benches, said: “We will invite you as well.”
On a chilly day when Islamabad received the first substantial rain of this winter, Mr Asif of the PML-N seemed speaking in a lighter vein when he taunted the treasury benches about the charge coming from a man he alleged had been appointed by the present government on the recommendation of a property tycoon.
“It is your domestic affair,” he said and asked the government to better approach the same tycoon who, he said, would settle the affair.
But Mr Khursheed Shah took the jibe seriously, saying about the claim that “we are awed to hear it” and that “we should all get together to make jihad” against such menace.
Earlier, Mr Shah had a tough time responding to complaints from both opposition and treasury benches about non-provision of approved natural gas connections and about gas pressure in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
While PML-N chief whip Sheikh Aftab Ahmad accused the supplying company Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited of inefficiency, the harshest criticism came from a PPP loose cannon, Jamshed Dasti from Multan, who said gas connections were being given “only” in the constituencies of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and Deputy Prime Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and demanded removal of the prime minister’s adviser on petroleum, Asim Hussain, for what he called disregarding recommendations of a sub-committee headed by him of the house committee on petroleum and natural resources.