The federal government has yet to decide the matter of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Chairman Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal, whose tenure is coming to an end next month.
A senior government official told The Express Tribune that deliberations were under way as to whether the incumbent one should continue or a new chairman should be appointed.
“The government is seriously considering extending the tenure of the incumbent chairman until the appointment of his successor as the post should not be vacated for a single day,” he added.
“However, legislation will be required to implement this suggestion.”
Read more: Judiciary wants say in NAB chief’s appointment
He further said Prime Minister Imran Khan would hold a meeting on the matter soon.
In February this year, the government had promulgated an ordinance to extend NAB Prosecutor General Syed Asghar Haider’s term by another three years.
The appointment of NAB chairman is made by the prime minister in consultation with the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly.
The consultation on the appointment of the NAB chairman will not be an easy task in the prevailing political situation in the country wherein the ruling PTI is only relying on its narrative of accountability. It wants to contest the next general elections on the same basis.
One section of the government is in favour of giving an extension to the NAB chairman as he sent several critics of the incumbent regime behind bars.
However, another section is opposing extending the incumbent chairman’s tenure over several reasons.
First, there is a serious issue of credibility in the process of accountability.
Former chief justice of Pakistan Asif Saeed Khosa had said the perception of “lopsided accountability” in the country must end.
Therefore, questions are being raised about the PTI government using NAB to give a tough time to opposition leaders on PM Imran’s desire.
The same section also believes that despite the arrest of several opposition leaders, NAB is unable to ensure conviction in high profile cases. They doubt that the NAB top boss will be able to ensure their conviction before the next general elections.
It is also discussed within the government ranks that “powerful circles” have more influence on the NAB chairman than the civilian government.
Also read: SJC to decide about jurisdiction to proceed against NAB chief
Therefore, it is not easy to convict PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif, his son Hamza Sharif, former president Asif Ali Zardari and others before the next general polls when the security establishment wants reconciliation with opposition parties.
Political analysts also believe that the role of the security establishment will be significant in the appointment or extension of the NAB chairman.
It has been learnt that PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto has made it clear that he would not support the move to extend the tenure of the incumbent NAB chairman. The PML-N is already a strong critic of Javed Iqbal.
Several names, including former SC judge Azmat Saeed Sheikh, ex-CJP Nasirul Mulk and incumbent NAB Director General Zahir Shah, are being floated for the post. In the month of July, the Supreme Judicial Council had noted that the top court had never “receded” from its suggestion of consultation with the CJP in the process of the appointment of the NAB chairman.
"It is apparent that for the appointment of the NAB chairman, consultation with the chief justice of Pakistan [CJP] is not necessary but the suggestion of the Supreme Court in paragraph 288 in the case of Khan Asfand Yar Wali (2001 judgment) seem to be holding ground as in the case of Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan (PLD 2013), the Supreme Court has not receded from the suggestion,” read a four-page order issued by the SJC led by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed, which was hearing the complaint of misconduct against the incumbent NAB chairman.
Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan had sought time to obtain instructions on the council’s observations. The council has yet to fix a meeting for this purpose.
It has been learnt that the government has yet to make a decision on appointing the NAB chairman with the consultation of the CJP.
On Tuesday, Senate Committee on Law and Justice Chairman Barrister Ali Zafar had strongly objected to the SC’s suggestion that the appointment of the anti-graft body’s chief should be made with the consultation of the CJP.
Zafar, a PTI senator, said there was a major conflict of interest in this situation.
He added that the NAB chairman headed the investigating and prosecuting agency while the courts judged the merits of the anti-graft body’s case after trial in accordance with the principle that not only justice be done but seen to be done as well.
"In our Constitution, the investigator and prosecutor must be separate from the court to maintain impartiality and ensure a fair trial. However, if the NAB chairman is appointed in consultation with the CJP, it will mean that the investigation, prosecution and judges are all part of the same team,” he pointed out.
Sindh High Court Bar Association (SHCBA) President Salahuddin Ahmed had already wondered as to why judges should choose the NAB chairman.
“Why not the FIA DG or the IGs of all provinces as well?” he added.
"When we are aggrieved with the actions of these people i.e. NAB, we go to judges for relief. There is a potential for conflict of interest if their appointment is also made by those same judges.
Legal experts believe that in case of extension in the tenure of the NAB chairman, the matter will be challenged in the superior courts.
So the role of the judiciary could not be ruled out in this matter, they added.
(This story has been published from The Express Tribune feed, without modifications to the text)