–President, federal cabinet approve NAB Amendment Ordinance 2019, restrict its powers to hold businessmen, govt employees accountable
–Accused will be entitled to bail if NAB fails to complete investigation within three months
ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet on Friday accorded approval to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Amendment Ordinance 2019, sent by the Law Ministry for clipping the powers of the anti-graft watchdog.
President Dr Arif Alvi has given his assent to the ordinance.
According to the amended ordinance, the anti-corruption would be barred from taking action against government employees in case of departmental deficiencies. It also stated that property of government employees would not be frozen unless ordered by the court and in case NAB’s investigation is incomplete after three months, the arrested public servant would be entitled to bail. It further stated that NAB would only be able to pursue corruption cases of Rs500 million and more.
Moreover, NAB’s jurisdiction will be curtailed as its discretion will be replaced by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), and Building Control Authorities over issues of tax, stock exchange and initial public offerings (IPO). NAB will also take guidance from fixed rates of FBR or district collectors for determining the value of the land.
On November 15, the Sindh government challenged in the Supreme Court (SC) an amendment made to the National Accountability Ordinance, better known as the NAB law, through which the federal government has attempted to withdraw ‘better class’ in prison from an accused person facing a Rs50 million, or more, embezzlement case.
The provincial government — led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), whose co-chairman and former president Asif Ali Zardari, his sister Faryal Talpur, Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani and other leaders were detained in Rawalpindi’s Adiala jail and Karachi’s central prison — challenged the amendment made by the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government through a presidential ordinance.
Citing the federal government as respondent through the secretary of the cabinet division, the Sindh government had said shortly after the president promulgated the ordinance, the National Accountability (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was tabled before the National Assembly (NA) on November 7.
In the same session, the motion to amend the NAB Ordinance by way of the 2019 ordinance was adopted and the bill was passed by virtue of Section 2 of the 2019 ordinance inserting a new sub-section (e) in Section 10.
It had stated that the “promulgation of the 2019 Ordinance by the President of Pakistan is unconstitutional and ultra vires of Article 89 of the Constitution for having been promulgated in a mala-fide manner, prior to a scheduled session of the House of Parliament”.
The Sindh government argued had that pursuant to the historical allocation of legislative competence between the federation and the provinces — right from the Government of India Act, 1935 to the current constitutional dispensation under the 1973 Constitution — the legislative competence of the “prisons” and “prisoners” always remained within the exclusive domain of the provinces.
It had argued that as such, the 2019 ordinance had been promulgated and passed into law without legislative competence.
On November 11, Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Azam Khan Swati had urged the opposition to sit with the government for debate on the law pertaining to NAB’s powers and to remove flaws form it with mutual discussion.
He had stated this while winding up debate on a motion under Rule 218 in Senate regarding the recent wave of alleged political victimisation and denial of fundamental rights to members of opposition parties and revocation of citizenship of a former member of parliament.
The minister had said that opposition parties were involved in politically victimising each other in the past but now they have been trying to stop the accountability process by standing with each other. Their purpose is to undermine efforts of highlighting Kashmir crisis and resolve other national issues, he had added.
Swati had appealed to the NAB chairman to strengthen the prosecution of NAB and to take action across the board. He had added that NAB was an independent institution and anyone involved in corrupt practices should not be spared.
On August 31, the Law Ministry had drafted new laws to amend the rules of the NAB to exempt private citizens from anti-graft watchdog’s prosecution.
The ministry had proposed giving the accountability courts the authority to decide the bail pleas. “The application of the NAB laws may not be extended in respect of a private person or entity, who/which is directly and indirectly unconnected with a holder of public office,” reads the third proposed amendment to the law,” the draft had read.
The draft had recommended that NAB should not take action against government employees on departmental defects, rather there should be proceedings against employees who have evidence to benefit from the defects. NAB would prosecute over Rs500 million corruption cases and scandals.
“NAB shall not take cognisance of offences based on procedural lapses” unless there is evidence corroborating that the “officer has materially benefited from such a decision or lapse”, the proposed amendment had read.
The proposed had amendment also referred to the existing law on misuse of authority stating that the act would only be used against a government employee if there was an underlying criminal intent or if their assets had grown illegally or unjustifiably.
The draft amended by the Law Ministry had stated that a committee constituted by Prime Minister Imran Khan would approve the voluntary return of looted money under the new NAB rules and plea bargains and voluntary return of looted money would hold the accused ineligible for public office for 10 years. It had also been suggested to develop guidelines for the acceptance of plea bargain.
In addition, the draft had proposed that if the NAB investigation had not been completed within three months, the arrested public servant would be entitled to bail and NAB would not be able to reopen the case once it had been investigated. “If a civil servant was arrested then there would be 45 days remand instead of 90 days”, the draft had proposed.
The removal of power of NAB from the stock market and tax issues was also proposed along with the authority to freeze the assets of public servants. “The property of a government employee can be frozen only after a court sentence and their valuation would depend on the District Collector rate or the FBR rate,” the draft had read.