ISLAMABAD: Legislators in the Senate on Tuesday called for enactment of an accountability law, which should hold accountable all the government institutions and that there must be no “holy cow”, otherwise corruption will not be fought.
There was a consensus among the senators that political parties should not bear with corrupt elements in their ranks. They emphasized parliament should lead the drive against corruption and called for accountability in the judiciary and armed forces.
Leader of the Opposition Aitzaz Ahsan rejected outright the audit of the Nandipur project by an international firm, Ferguson, which he termed as “a whitener” and a whitewash and asked the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to probe it independently.
Federal Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Muhammad Asif offered to the (proposed) oversight committee of the House to first probe the Nandipur project, LNG import or any other matter pertaining to the incumbent government.
Senators from the treasury and opposition benches spoke on how to control and eliminate corruption from the society, particularly from the federal government departments. The debate was held before the adoption of a report of the House Standing Committee on Law, Justice and Human Rights, presented by PML-N Senator Muhammad Javed Abbasi, regarding corruption in the federal government departments.
The House witnessed an exchange of allegations between the Leader of the Opposition PPP Senator Aitzaz Ahsan and the ruling PML-N Senator Mushahid Ullah Khan, blaming each other’s governments for the menace.
Taking part in the debate, Pakistan Muslim League-Q Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed pointed out that the report missed out the issue of conflict of interest, being one of the major causes of corruption.
He said there must be zero tolerance with regards to corruption in all departments, including the judiciary and military. However, he contended the key role in fighting corruption should be that of parliament and the political leadership.
Mushahid said that on the issue of recovery of Osama bin Laden from Abbottabad, the political government should have investigated the matter. He made it clear there should be no sacred cows vis-à-vis accountability and fighting corruption.
PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar said corruption was an attack on the fundamental social and political values and insisted there must be no discrimination in holding the corrupt accountable.
He contended the slogan of accountability would sound hollow without an across-the-board accountability of everyone by rejecting the notion of holy cows whether in the security establishment or in the judiciary and without an effective Right to Information Law.
Babar asked was any one held accountable on the Kargil battle and recovery of Osama bin Laden from Pakistan or was any judge ever impeached. Nuclear material was given to Libya and Iran, he said adding whether any accountability was done on this count.
Babar warned that as long as the sacred cows syndrome persisted, accountability would remain a pipe dream. He said that the notion of some institutions carrying out accountability through internal mechanisms was a myth, the fallacy of which had been more than exposed.
“The Senate today must send a strong signal that it demands across-the-board accountability and rejects the notion of sacred cows,” he emphasized.
He said the Right to Information Law had been finalised by the Senate Committee on Information nearly 18 months ago and the government had even agreed to own it as a government bill but it had still not been approved by the cabinet for laying it in parliament.
Babar noted that every time the Information Committee met, the information minister promised that it would be placed before the cabinet in its next meeting — a promise that had not been kept even while the cabinet had met more than 15 times since the minister first made the promise.
He said that when the Senate committee first started its work on the draft law nearly three years ago and sought views of relevant stakeholders, the defence ministry refused to give its input saying also that it was a sensitive matter which should be kept on hold till it issued an NOC for the purpose.
Babar wondered if the RTI law had been withheld for the past 18 months because of the objections of the defence establishment.
Without the RTI, there could be no transparency and without transparency there can be no genuine accountability, he said.
Aitzaz said that not only the government and the opposition, there must be accountability of others, including the armed forces, judiciary, police and media persons. He noted the Nandipur project was an instance of mega-corruption, but it was being made out to be a technical issue.
He alleged the prime minister paid Rs477 income tax in 1994-1996 and now after 20 years, he owned assets of billions, asking how these could be compatible to what he had owned in the 1990s.
The veteran lawmaker said the allegations on LNG import, Nandipur project, the costliest metro bus project and solar power park, among other issues, needed to be investigated. He complained during the PPP rule, sitting PMs and ministers were probed and sentenced. He said that bureaucrats were blamed when voices were raised about corruption in the PML-N rule, while their ministers were arrested.
Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party Senator Usman Kakar said that those who supported the corrupt elements and remained silent on it were also part of corruption.
He asked how generals became billionaires and MPs travelling in rickshaws became owners of farmhouses.
He slammed the National Accountability Bureau for not fighting corruption and instead doing corruption by resorting to plea bargains. He also did not spare FIA, which also had several corrupt officers.
The senator said some state institutions believed they were above parliament and hence could not be held accountable. He also made the mention of the judiciary, the army and intelligence agencies on this count.
Senator Mushahid Ullah claimed that it was because of corruption and inaction against it during its rule that the PPP candidates got as few as 6,000 votes in the 2013 elections, who had previously secured over 100,000 votes.
Responding to Aitzaz’s charge against Nawaz, he said whether Zardari was ever asked how much tax he paid.
He said that some 60-70 persons in the Sindh government, including its chief secretary, had obtained bail before arrest. He alleged the PPP had embarrassed not only itself but also Pakistan because of its corruption.
Mushahid Ullah noted how boats loaded with dollars were impounded and Ayaan Ali was arrested and said if anyone asked whose wealth she was taking away. He was quick to add it was yet to be proved what was right and what was wrong.
He also made a reference to PPP’s former minister Dr Asim Hussain who, he said, was accused of having been receiving Rs20 million daily only from PSO in Karachi.
The PML-N senator said that all the politicians would have to unite against corruption, a curse.
Hasil Bizenjo said after the decade of 80s corruption had increased to such an extent that now who has no aircraft or helicopter is not considered a politician. He said NAB is an institution of kidnapping for ransom where those who committed corruption of billions get clear chit after plea bargain of two, three crores. He said the history of politicians has enabled armymen to reach a level where people like to become the army chief rather than the prime minister.
Minister Khawaja Asif proposed that the House committee or any other special committee should consider taking the Nandipur power project and the LNG import or any other matter as its first case for investigation.
He clarified that the project with an estimated cost of Rs59 billion was approved by the PPP government in January 2013, whereas Ecnec had okayed it in June 2013.
Aitzaz rose again to note that Mushahid Ullah had not rejected that the prime minister had paid Rs477 income tax in three years and no tax in 1994 and in 1996.
PPP Senator Abdul Rehman Malik said corruption was rampant in the government departments because there was no concept of punishing the wrongdoers.
He said if constitutional protection was given to bureaucrats, they would not hesitate in taking action against corrupt officers.
He demanded that after the referral of the Nandipur project, cases against the PPP’s former PMs should also be referred to it.
Earlier, the Senate passed two bills: The Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2015 and The Stock Exchanges (Corporatization, Demutualization and Integration (Amendment) Bill, 2015. These were moved by Federal Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on the behalf of minister for finance.
The Senate adopted a motion moved by Leader of the House Raja Muhammad Zafar-ul-Haq and Leader of the Opposition Aitzaz Ahsan on formation of a special committee of the House on ethics.
The Senate Chairman, Mian Raza Rabbani, described it as a historic occasion as for the first time in the history of parliament an ethics committee was being set up to prepare a code of conduct for members.
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