Islamabad: The Pakistan government finds itself on the back foot in its bid to legitimise an ordinance granting immunity to politicians, military officers and bureaucrats charged with corruption with most members of a parliamentary panel seeking an open debate rather than in-camera hearings.
"The government was in for a rude shock on the NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance) issue when on Tuesday 15 out of the 17-member National Assembly standing committee on law and justice engaged with the controversial piece of legislation almost scuttled a government move which want the next committee meeting on October 26 to be held in-camera to avoid any embarrassing coverage of the issue," The News reported Wednesday.
"Unbelievable as it may seem, this group demanding media glasnost also includes seven members out of the total nine-member (ruling) PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) squad in the committee," the newspaper added.
In background interviews with The News, the 15 agitating committee members said they did not see any justification for barring the media from covering the proceedings and wanted the proceedings to be open for public consumption.
The majority view, however, is not likely to prevail, as committee chair Nasim Akhtar Chaudhry will adhere to a PPP diktat and order the session to be held in-camera.
Ironically, while talking to The News last week, Chaudhry had said she had no problem with the media coverage of the NRO session. "OK, I properly invite you and other media personnel to attend this meeting," she had said.
The National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, is to meet Nov 2 to examine the NRO and 36 other ordinances promulgated by former president Pervez Musharraf.
The NRO had been promulgated in October 2007 to enable the return from exile of former prime minister Benzair Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari, who is now the president of Pakistan, both of whom were charged with corruption.
The Supreme Court in its July 31 judgement, ruling as unconstitutional the emergency Musharraf had declared Nov 3, 2007, had invalidated the 37 ordinances and fixed Nov 30 as the deadline for their approval or rejection by parliament.
Adeel Gilani, the Pakistan chief of global anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI), has said anti-corruption efforts in the country had taken a 180 degree turn since Musharraf issued the NRO.
TI, in its 2009 Global Corruption Report, said the lack of anti-graft laws makes Pakistan one of the most corrupt nations in the world and is coming in the way of foreign investments in the country.
"How can one expect from any donor to come forward to assist Pakistan from its current financial crisis, when there exists no law against corruption?" the report, released Sep 23, said.
Ironically, Musharraf promulgated the NRO 56 days after ratifying the UN Convention against Corruption.