It barely took a day of intense media and political criticism for the government to roll back some of its already-controversial amendments to the National Accountability Ordinance.
The proposed “Revised Updated NAB Ordinance” that has been approved by the President, takes away much of the bureau’s ability to go after businessmen and bureaucrats in general, leaving politicians as the only target.
Meanwhile, the most glaring flaws in the law remain. Accountability courts cannot grant bail, regardless of how strong or weak the case may be. The NAB chairman retains the power to pursue cases of his choosing, rather than requiring approval of a scrutiny board that was in the earlier amendment draft. The new law also fails to specify a timeframe for completing an inquiry.
But Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar claimed that the amendments aim to address problematic clauses in the law such as the one regarding “misuse of authority”. He said the law previously allowed for NAB cases where the accused made honest mistakes with no malicious intent.
The second amendment was to address jurisdictional overlaps with the Federal Board of Revenue on tax-related cases.
He also clarified that common men can still be prosecuted under the law, but for a much smaller range of crimes. This includes Ponzi schemes and other financial scams. Merchants, attorneys, banks and agents may also be prosecuted for cheating the public. The PM’s aide also explained the clause regarding “defence of good faith”.
Officers charged by NAB who are later exonerated cannot file cases against NAB officers unless a personal enmity can be proven. But this leaves out incompetence, and the accused may still have to deal with the public perception of guilt due to lack of incriminating evidence rather than innocence, which can destroy reputations.
Meanwhile, the opposition continues to cry foul over the use of an ordinance rather than an act of parliament to amend the law. This is a fair point, considering changes to the NAB law were one of the things the opposition was demanding.
The scenes of opposition forces advancing towards a fragile government and citizens scrambling to board any means of transport out of Tripoli have not yet faded. The band of resistance stretched thin in offering a buffer between the main fighting and civilians is a memory all too fresh. Yet, Libya, which saw moments of stability in recent years, seems to be descending into chaos again.
Strongman Khalifa Haftar has launched an assault on Tripoli and the seat of the Government of National Accord (GNA) — the globally-recognised government in Libya.
As a result, around 140,000 Libyans in and around the capital are trying to flee. This influx means that rents have soared in the city. For a while, people found refuge within the city. But as opposition forces draw nearer, the population has retreated further and it now finds itself holed up in abandoned and half-finished buildings — remnants of the last sense of progress in the country before the global housing crisis struck the country and started Libya’s long descent into chaos, starting with the ouster of former dictator Moammar Gaddafi.
Unlike when Gaddafi was ousted, the civil structure in Libya seems to have collapsed. Citizens have been left to fend for themselves. The government, too busy preserving its power, cannot even spare moral support for beleaguered citizens.
The GNA, for its part, was always quite weak, much like the fragile coalitions trying to fill large power vacuums in other countries of the region.
But the ramifications of the latest crisis in Libya are sure to be far-reaching. Already an established route for refugees, one expects a fresh stream of people fleeing conflict to land on European shores soon.
This, thus, merits stronger interventions from neighbouring countries and even from Europe and the United Nations. At the very least, the interventions must offer humanitarian aid to those displaced, who have little to do with any conflict.