ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan has given the government another chance and two weeks to report its progress on the implementation of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) verdict of December 16, 2009.
The five-member bench headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk hearing the suo moto case has directed law minister Babar Awan to submit a concise report regarding the reopening of corruption cases by June 10. For weeks now, the court has been demanding that various government functionaries – including National Accountability Bureau chief Naveed Ahsan, former law secretary Aqil Mirza and former attorney-general Anwar Mansoor Khan – explain why the government has yet to write to Swiss officials and ask them to reopen cases against President Asif Zardari.
Justice Jawad S Khwaja said the court had summoned Awan so that he could explain the actual situation since “the government functionaries could not satisfy the court and have been giving contradictory statements in previous hearings”. Most notably, Khan, at the time of tendering his resignation, had said the law minister was the main impediment to the writing of the letter. However, the law minister told the court that the government had fulfilled nine of ten directions set out in the NRO verdict.
He said that the prosecutor-general for NAB has been replaced in line with the court’s orders; the additional prosecutor has been removed two new judges for accountability courts have been appointed in Rawalpindi and Lahore; notification has been issued for the establishment of an accountability court in Multan; a number of prosecutors and special prosecutors have been appointed and the process of moving a reference against former attorney general Malik Qayyum has been initiated. He also put forward developments regarding the setting up of two accountability courts for Islamabad and the Islamabad High Court.
On being asked about how long it would take to file the reference against Qayyum, Awan told Mulk that while he couldn’t commit to a time, it would be completed soon. About the SC directive regarding the writing to Swiss officials, Awan said there was no case of money laundering in Swiss courts against Zardari or Benazir Bhutto; only an investigation that has also been concluded. The minister argued that under the rules of business of the 1973 constitution, a summary regarding the implementation of the NRO verdict has been sent to the prime minister and all points – including the Swiss cases – are under discussion. Awan also argued that the attorney general was not authorised to write a letter to the Swiss authorities unless the government authorises him to do so.
He informed the bench that the Swiss court declared all allegations against Zardari and Bhutto null and void in 2001 and that there has been no progression since. But the bench wasn’t pacified so easily. “What about the 60 million dollars; where is that money?” asked Justice Jawad S Khwaja. “We just want to know, to what extent NRO verdict has been implemented and how much time is required.” To this, Awan said that the government is not deliberately delaying implementation but needed some time in adherence with the rules of business. At Khwaja’s insistence on knowing whether the government intended to bring the $60 million back, Awan said the figure is “a notion” and that investigations were carried out in this regard which showed this amount is exaggerated.
Further, argued Awan, he could provide documentary evidence in support of his claim. “NAB provided us with that figure,” retorted Khwaja, to which Awan said the NAB report was wrong. On being asked by Khwaja how long it would take to implement the NRO verdict “in letter and spirit”, Awan said it would not take months; that the government respects the judiciary and will implement and honour its decisions. The law minister then requested the court to grant him three weeks to submit a concise report regarding Swiss cases but the court would only agree to two weeks. The bench has exempted Awan from personal appearance and will take up the case again on June 10.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 26th, 2010.