Pakistan’s former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Sunday lambasted the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and described it as a “tool to convert people into turncoats”.
Talking at the Asma Jahangir Conference in Lahore, the PML-N leader delivered a speech regarding his grievances against the watchdog and blamed it for a series of ailments plaguing the country.
In the speech, Abbasi said that in one of the cases filed against him the charge sheet was 35 pages long, while the NAB reference was only 19 pages long. He said, “You can write anything in any charge sheet […]. What are we doing, where are we going?”
Lamenting the country’s existing situation, he said that as per the law he was required to maintain financial records for the last seven years. But he was being accused of something that took place 35 years ago, he added.
Abbasi said, “If you accuse me of something, then you also need to give the record for [the last] 35 years. I definitely cannot. I am all for accountability … [but] NAB is not accountability”
He accused the anti-graft watchdog of being a tool to carry out political engineering, saying, “If you want the accountability of politicians, it is very simple. The whole world does it. You don’t need special laws, it’s about tax laws.”
The former prime minister stated that those who levy taxes on the citizens of the country should provide details of their own assets and answer for their own lifestyles.
Abbasi said, “If members of parliament walk out to [sit in] a vehicle that costs Rs30-60 million, go to their Rs500m home [with a] monthly electricity bill of 0.2m. And they pay no taxes, what does that tell you?”
He added, “That’s a corrupt politician. Why don’t we go after them? Let us start with the president of Pakistan. Let the prime minister be next, followed by the leader of the opposition. Ask them this basic question: how do you justify your lifestyle?”
The PML-N leader remarked that the anti-graft watchdog was now only about “victimisation”, the price of which was being borne by the people of Pakistan.
He continued by saying that when NAB was established in 2000, Pakistan had a per capita income of $576, which has now risen to $1,190. Adding, “Bangladesh was at $358 and now they are at $2,097 while India has risen to $1,900 from $443.”
Abbasi said that accountability and electoral laws could be amended through consensus only. He lamented the fact that when the opposition presented amendments to the laws, they were later disregarded and branded by the government as an attempt to seek an NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance).
Abbasi also brought attention to the “negative impact” NAB cases can bring upon an individual.
He said, “Does anybody care about people who are accused by NAB? Does anybody care about their families? Do you know that they can’t operate their accounts, businesses or apply for bank loans? There is a big human cost that is paid here.”
Abbasi stated that public figures were the ones subjected to the accountability process every five years and the only ones called for having transparent investigations into such allegations.
He added, “Install cameras in courtrooms and investigation rooms. Accuse me in front of the people,” he said, calling the bureau “a tool to convert people into turncoats and to sell their souls”.
The PML-N leader said that tax laws should be used to disqualify politicians or use Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution against them.
“Anybody who is not paying taxes is committing a crime against the country,” he remarked, adding that most citizens think that paying taxes is “optional”.
Recounting the process of legislating on the issue of appointing judges, he noted that he was the one who had moved the amendment which said that those wishing to become a judge should present their tax history for the last 10 years.
“You’d be surprised at how many people who have not paid taxes became judges.” He continued saying that those judges who were unable to do so were either not technically qualified to be judges or had hidden their income.
He asked, “Are they qualified to judge me tomorrow?”
PPP’s Qamar Zaman Kaira also addressed the event, while PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif is expected to address the conference later today at 5 pm.