KARACHI: In the first Sindh Assembly session in months, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led provincial government proved its detractors correct by taking a stand for an allegedly corrupt party member. The party lambasted the arrest of MPA and former information minister Sharjeel Inam Memon and adopted a resolution in the assembly, condemning the ‘biased policies’ of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
The resolution, moved by Information Minister Nasir Hussain Shah, was passed with majority votes, an easy task since the PPP has the majority in the assembly. Soon after the passing of the resolution, however, Law Minister Ziaul Hasan Lanjar announced that the main opposition party - the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) - had also voted in favour of the resolution. MQM MPAs remained silent at his announcement, but Leader of the Opposition Khawaja Izharul Hasan later denied voting in favour of the resolution while speaking to the media outside the session.
Other lawmakers were more vocal of their opposition to the resolution. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan Muslim League - Functional (PML-F) and Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) criticised the government for moving the resolution, terming it an attempt to protect the corrupt.
The PPP is no stranger to such taunts. Earlier this year the provincial government repealed the NAB Ordinance amid similar cries.
Sharjeel Memon lambasts NAB in Sindh Assembly
As tensions rose in the House, PPP lawmakers lashed out at NAB, saying the bureau’s arbitrary treatment was discriminatory, unlawful and contrary to Article 25 of the Constitution. "The evidence against Sharjeel Inam Memon is personally driven and aims to tarnish his image and create political turmoil," reads the resolution. "Memon has returned to Pakistan to face any charges against him. He showed his confidence in the law and courts of Pakistan for justice. Whereas it may have been expedient for him to not return to Pakistan and counter the accusations against him, he proves his commitment to justice and his faith in the judiciary [by returning]," it added. In the resolution, the House resolved and recommended the Sindh government to approach the federal government to adopt a uniform policy throughout Pakistan’s judicial system and strictly follow it. "No citizen of any status shall have separate law deriving from his caste, religion and or political affiliation. We shall practice and promote equality, which will strengthen the public's confidence in the courts and law," the resolution concluded.
Apart from treasury members, opposition members were also given floor to discuss the issue. The members sitting on opposition benches suggested avoiding confrontation by not moving the resolution as the matter was sub-judice. "I suggest you please don't drag this matter, which is already pending before the court," MQM parliamentary leader Syed Sardar Ahmed said.
But Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah was of the view that his government and party have always respected the courts. He said this resolution was against NAB, which has, according to him, victimised people through its biased policies and damaged the sanctity of the Sindh High Court by arresting an MPA from its premises. "We still believe that corruption and accountability are provincial subjects and we will raise this issue at any forum,” he said. “I am not afraid of NAB action. We will criticise them whenever they violate the law," stated the CM, adding that the SHC must take action against NAB for arresting an MPA from its premises without an arrest warrant.
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Murad said NAB is now opening old appointment cases by initiating inquiries. He warned the national anti-graft watchdog not to wage a war with him without proof. "I am open to accountability but do not make accusations against me without any proof," he said. "I am the elected leader of the house, if someone points a finger at me they raise questions about the entire house," he told his fellow public representatives.
Criticising the opposition for not voting in favour of the resolution, Murad said that while even the SHC judges criticised NAB's double standards, the Sindh Assembly remained quiet. He said that if the SHC was putting its weight behind the PPP, the Sindh Assembly should at least criticise the bureaus double standards.
He alleged that the federal government was targeting Sindh. "You have the entire Sindh Cabinet in court every day," he stated, questioning why accountability was only limited to one province. "Please open whatever cases you want. I am not afraid of this and am willing to face the consequences" the CM said.
Memon, who was brought to the assembly from Central Jail, Karachi, said NAB has victimised him. Comparing his case with that of PML-N leaders, he said, "NAB officials could not even enter Islamabad's Benzair Bhutto Airport to arrest deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif's son-in-law Captain (retd) Safdar but had come to the runway to arrest me at the airport despite bail." He said NAB personnel had no arrest warrant and dragged him into a vehicle after the SHC cancelled his bail. "The Federal Investigation Agency has put my name on the Exit Control List," he lamented, questioning why Finance Minister Ishaq Dar's name has not been included in the list despite the references against him.
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"Should we assume PML-N and NAB are friends and law does not apply to the ruling party?" Memon questioned. He said that the deposed premier is about to return today (Thursday) and questioned whether Nawaz would be meted out the same treatment and be arrested.
Opposing the resolution, PML-F MPA Nusrat Seher Abbasi said if the allegations of Rs6 billion corruption against Memon are wrong then he should declare his assets. "We want to know where he has gotten this money and how he lives such a lavish life here and abroad," she demanded, questioning why the PPP failed to utter a single word against NAB when the party was in power from 2008 to 2013. "We must say that corrupt people should be punished," she said.
Hasan said the resolution had been moved to protect an individual. "You are setting a new precedent, which is not good omen," he warned.
"You have nominated the NAB chairperson and are now criticising him," said Khurrum Sher Zaman of the PTI. He added that Pakistan was not created to be looted and plundered of public wealth. "We reject this resolution and demand action against corrupt people," he said.
When the session started with Deputy Speaker Shehla Raza in chair, the PPP MPAs gave Memon a warm welcome by thumping their desks. But Abbasi was not pleased with this and said, "We should not welcome corrupt people in this House". The deputy speaker adjourned the session till today (Thursday) without discussing any other items on the agenda.
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