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Senate Passes NAB Amendment Bill amidst Opposition Protest

Upper House also sees acrimony between government, opposition over ECP ruling in PTI’s prohibited funding case

by Newsweek Pakistan

File photo of Pakistan Senate

The Senate on Thursday passed the National Accountability (Second Amendment) Act, 2022 amidst vigorous protest by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led opposition, who accused the ruling coalition of trying to damage the anti-graft watchdog to benefit its leaders.

The government, however, maintained that the revisions—and the suspension of rules to introduce the bill—were in the public interest. During the proceedings, PTI Senator Shibli Faraz alleged that the bill was aimed at rendering NAB “powerless,” adding it was intended to benefit members of the incumbent government that were facing corruption charges. He claimed there was no “moral justification” for the legislation and rejected it outright.

Jamaat-e-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmed supported the PTI’s views, arguing the bill was to take effect retroactively from 1999 and this was not possible in cases of criminal law. He also highlighted an amendment that would bar NAB from prosecuting people who whitened their black money through amnesty programs, claiming this would legitimize various “mafias, criminals, and dacoits.” However, the government’s majority rejected three amendments submitted by Ahmad ahead of passing the law.

Responding to the criticisms, Minister of State for Law and Justice Shahadat Awan said he could prove all changes were in the public interest. However, the debate could not proceed, as opposition senators started shouting slogans after gathering around the Senate chairman’s podium. They also staged a walk-out from the proceedings after registering their protest.

Also on Thursday, lawmakers of the government and the opposition argued over the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)’s recent ruling in the PTI prohibited funding case. PPP leader Raza Rabbani commenced the debate by stating the ECP had found the PTI had received funding from banned sources. He said the PTI had received donations from approximately 350 foreign companies, adding that several accounts remained hidden. He argued that the government should move against PTI Chairman Imran Khan under Article 62(1)(f) of the Constitution for blatantly signing incorrect certificates with annual declarations of the party’s assets for five consecutive years.

“You can make a mistake once or twice but not for four or five years in a row,” he said. “There should also be criminal investigations against PTI leaders who managed hidden and disowned accounts,” he added. In response, PTI Senator Ejaz Chaudhry reiterated his party’s narrative of the ECP incorrectly considering several overseas Pakistanis as foreigners. He also alleged that PMLN chief Nawaz Sharif had received funds from Osama bin Laden to destabilize Benazir Bhutto’s government—a longstanding claim that has yet to be independently verified—and questioned the ECP’s “bias” for not examining the funding of all political parties simultaneously.

Responding to Chaudhry’s commentary, PPP Senator Nisar Khoro said the PTI’s funding case had been pending since 2014, while the cases against the PPP and PMLN were filed in 2018. He also rejected the PTI’s accusations of the chief election commissioner being biased, reminding the House that it was the PTI-led government that had nominated and appointed Sikandar Sultan Raja to the slot.

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