Pakistan’s Sindh High Court asks federal accountability bureau ‘NAB’ to continue work in province

NAB will continue operating in the province, orders Sindh High Court

Irshad Salim — The top court of Pakistan’s Sindh province ordered on Wednesday that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) — a federal anti-corruption watchdog, would continue operating in the province and also sought a list of parliamentarians and government officials facing corruption charges.

In July, the province’s Legislative Assembly had the controversial Sindh Accountability Act 2017 passed with a majority vote justifying the move being within the ambit of the 18th Amendment to the country’s constitution. Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has maintained clear majority in the assembly for the last nine years, and has been ruling the province– Karachi, Pakistan’s economic and financial capital is its capital.

Key opposition parties– the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf filed a lawsuit in the province’s top court challenging the controversial Sindh Accountability Act 2017 calling the government move as ill-intentioned, hastily done in bad faith.

The province’s Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah — a US-educated engineering-development economics professional who was installed last year, warned a few days back that his government would take action against NAB if it interfered in the affairs of his departments after the province’s own anti-graft law.

“We have enforced our anti-corruption law and now the provincial government will have to eliminate corruption from the province on its own,” Shah said.

He said that NAB has no jurisdiction to investigate provincial cases now. “Our stance is very clear that anti-corruption is a provincial subject,” he said.

The controversial provincial law has however sparked debates and caused severe criticism of the provincial government not only from the opposition parties, but also from a section of the media and civil societies, according to local media reports.

Many believe the Sindh National Accountability Ordinance 1999 Repeal Bill, 2017 was recently enacted by the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government to deprive the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) of its powers to operate in the province against white-collar crimes endemic in the province which is witnessing an uptick in foreign investment and ascent of several multinational companies with an eye on the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

However, the Sindh High Court (SHC) has allowed the federation’s NAB to resume its work in the province after plaintiffs (opposition lawmakers) filed a petition in the court and their lawyers presented their initial arguments.

Hearing the petition, SHC Chief Justice Ahmed Ali Sheikh ordered that a list of lawmakers facing NAB-led graft inquiries be presented to the court.

The province’s advocate general while representing the government, argued that federal laws were no longer applicable in Sindh. In response, the chief justice remarked would be right if the higher judiciary stopped special courts including anti-narcotics court from operating in the province– special courts operate in all provinces under federal laws.

NAB prosecutor Waqas Dar told the court that the provincial government’s new law was affecting the operations of the graft watchdog.

A similar case was also pending in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the advocate general informed the court.

The additional attorney general and the NAB prosecutor said they were unaware of the case pending in the Supreme Court.

The court adjourned the hearing of the case till August 22.

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