ISLAMABAD: The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) headed by under custody opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif on Friday criticised the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for being “tough on politicians and lenient with others”.
These views were expressed in the first meeting of the PAC held at the Parliament House and chaired by Mr Sharif. A day earlier, the National Assembly secretariat with the approval of the speaker had issued his production order, enabling him to attend the meeting.
NAB arrested former Punjab chief minister Sharif in October in connection with the Rs14 billion Ashiyana-i-Iqbal Housing Scheme case. The opposition leader has been in jail on judicial remand these days.
Shahbaz says he won’t deal with audit related to last govt
At the start of the meeting, the PAC chairman said that the forum would not be used for “bashing government officials and creating media sound bytes”.
As per the agenda, PAC secretary Iftikhar Rahim Khan briefed the committee members on the functioning of the committee, the apex accountability forum of the country having representation from both the National Assembly and the Senate.
Mr Khan said that the committee had referred 168 cases to NAB. Sheikh Rohail Asghar of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) inquired the status of those cases. Mr Khan replied that of the 168 cases, the bureau was conducting inquiries in 17 and investigations in 11 cases.
At this, the PAC chairman said that let NAB respond to this question on Monday or Tuesday.
Senator Sherry Rehman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) intervened saying that many (audit) paras were pending before the PAC due to the pending inquiries of NAB and there should be a time frame for disposal of these inquiries.
“This issue may be taken up on Tuesday,” said Mr Sharif.
The PPP’s Syed Naveed Qamar said that in various instances, the PAC had issued directives to the ministries for completing inquiries within a certain time frame and asked whether NAB should not be given a time frame to complete the inquiry against an accused.
Hina Rabbani Khar suggested that a responsible official of NAB should attend the PAC meeting. When pointed out that Additional Director of the bureau Rao Mohammad Saleem Khan was present, she criticised NAB and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for being “exceptionally active for the last few months.”
NAB and the FIA both are conducting inquiries against the senior leadership of the PML-N and the PPP.
“NAB should tell us how many inquiries have been disposed of from 2008 to 2013,” Ms Khar said, adding that the bureau might also be asked to explain the latest status of the cases.
A lawmaker belonging to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) expressed concern that “the culprits in the Royal Palm Golf Club scam have not been arrested so far”.
NAB has filed a reference in the scam in which former director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence retired Gen Javed Ashraf Qazi, who had served as railways minister during the military regime of Gen Pervez Musharraf, retired Lt Gen Saeeduz Zafar, retired Maj Gen Hamid Hassan and retired Brig Akhtar Ali Baig have been nominated as accused.
The Supreme Court has recently taken the club into the judicial custody and ordered an audit by a private firm.
Rohail Asghar asked whether NAB would bring all details before the committee on Monday.
Mr Sharif quipped: “Haven’t you heard Ms Khar? She has said that NAB and the FIA both are exceptionally active these days.”
The NAB additional director assured the committee that the bureau would produce all details by Monday.
PTI MNA Sardar Nasrullah Khan Dreshak, however, advised the committee to be careful while dealing with such matters.
He reminded the under custody PAC chairman about his “position” and said: “We should not give the impression of unnecessary haste since the PAC is the highest forum of parliament.”
He suggested that NAB should be given liberty to give a presentation on the date of its choice.
However, the NAB representative told the committee that he had already talked to the bureau’s director general and they were ready to give a briefing on Monday.
The PAC, however, deferred the briefing till Tuesday. On Monday, Auditor General of Pakistan Javed Jahangir will give a presentation about the audit of government departments to the committee.
While briefing the committee, the PAC secretary said that 18,043 audit paras had been pending since 2010. He said that from 2008 to 2011 when the PAC was headed by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, it had cleared 10 audit reports and regularised the amount of 170.8 billion. Likewise, Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah-led PAC during the previous government scrutinised eight audit reports and regularised the amount of Rs355bn.
PAC chairman Shahbaz Sharif appreciated the efforts of Chaudhry Nisar and Khursheed Shah.
He announced that being president of PML-N, he would not deal with the audit paras related to the previous government. Instead a sub-committee would be constituted to examine the audit reports of 2013 to 2018.
In addition, another committee would be formed for implementation of the PAC’s directives.
The committee expressed displeasure that despite previous directives that no official below grade 19 would attend the meeting, the deputy directors, section officers and additional directors were in attendance.
Mr Sharif directed the PAC secretary to ensure attendance of senior officials in forthcoming meetings.
Published in Dawn, December 29th, 2018