President Arif Alvi on Monday once again returned a bill amending the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Ordinance, refusing to sign it, after claiming the new legislation was “regressive” and will promote corruption.
In a statement issued by the President’s Secretariat, Alvi said he believed the law was regressive in nature and would promote corruption by crippling the “long arm of the law.” The bill, he claimed, sent a message to the corrupt—“who have amassed tremendous wealth and about which there is no doubt in the minds of the people of Pakistan”—that they were above accountability.
“The president lamented that the small man will be caught while the corrupt rich will remain free to continue with their bloodsucking, abhorrent practices,” read the statement, adding that “weak accountability” went against the basic rights of the people and was, thus, against the fundamentals of the Constitution.
Noting that he was aware that under Article 75(2) of the Constitution, the National Accountability (Amendment) Bill, 2022, would be enacted into law after 10 days even if he did not sign it, he claimed that the original bill had taken inspiration from “Hazrat Umar’s incident” when he was asked about the source of extra cloth in his cloak. “The onus of the prosecution or the accuser was to make sure that the item, in this case, an extra piece of cloth, was in the possession of the person (Hazrat Umar) and second, that the onus to justify the source of the item was upon the accused,” he said.
In a seeming contradiction, the president went on to claim that the principle of justice for all crimes is that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty except when the accused must present a money trail. “The possession of unexplained wealth was a crime in Pakistan until these amendments which have diluted the concept, making it substantially ineffective,” he claimed, while admitting that the judiciary and the general public perceived significant flaws in the implementation of the NAB Ordinance.
“This law, like all other laws vesting authority in the executive, was abused for political exigencies by those in power. Because of this reason, along with the role of vested interests, the accountability process in Pakistan became quite ineffective,” he said, while blaming “long judicial processes” for a failure to expose, prevent and eliminate corruption.
The president said it was “sad” that rather than structurally improving NAB, the new law sought to “demolish” the process of accountability without implementing any alternate system. “Weak laws, such as this one, create a facade of justice that blatantly hides a corrupt elite capture, and nations that accommodate such laws ensure very damaging exploitation of the common man perpetuating an unjust society,” he claimed, adding that his “conscience” did not allow him to sign the bill.
Majority PTI amendments
Responding to the opposition’s criticisms over the NAB bill, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar said in the Senate that the new legislation included 85 percent of the changes that the ousted government had made to the previous law through two separate ordinances.
Stressing that the NAB law had been used for “political engineering” in 2002, he accused the PTI of attempting the same during its tenure in power. “It was the mistake of the country’s two big political parties—PPP and PMLN—that they did not amend the ‘black law’; they should have amended it,” he said, adding that the government was ready to satisfy the opposition on “each and every amendment” made to the ordinance.