–Shahzad Akbar claims amendments won’t help govt, allies, terms them attempt to ‘strengthen’ institutions
–Akbar Says NAB laws regarding bail and remand are not changed; tax evasion will be dealt by FBR
–Says in a case of power abuse, NAB will only act when there’s personal monetary benefit attached
–Says if ordinary person has disproportionate assets, he will be probed by FBR, while NAB will investigate govt officials in such instances
ISLAMABAD: As the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) faces a volley of criticism from the opposition parties and analysts for promulgating a controversial National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Amendment Ordinance 2019, the two government ministers on Sunday held a press conference to assuage the concerns expressed about the newly-approved law.
Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Accountability Shahzad Akbar, flanked by Communication Minister Murad Saeed, said the amendment in the NAB law would not benefit the sitting ministers and termed it a move to “strengthen institutions”.
The ordinance had come under vehement criticism, being dubbed as NRO-Plus by the opposition lawmakers, who alleged that the ordinance would facilitate Prime Minister Imran Khan, his ministers and ‘friends’ to save their skins. It was also challenged in the courts.
Interestingly, the ordinance that highlighted the news on Friday — the day it was approved by the federal cabinet– was devoid of many of its clauses when it was issued by the Law Ministry with a new title ‘Revised Updated NAB Ordinance’ on Saturday.
The revised ordinance didn’t restrict NAB from taking up cases involving corruption or corrupt practices below an amount of Rs500 million as well as from issuing public statements at the stage of inquiry/investigation of a complaint. The new law neither specify any time period for completion of an inquiry nor bar NAB from reopening any inquiry/investigation.
The procedure to appoint prosecutor general accountability, the 90-day period of physical remand and shifting of burden of proof that rests on accused were not even touched in the new ordinance. There is no mention of a six-member “scrutiny committee”, suggested in the earlier version, whose permission was necessary for NAB before conducting any inquiry, investigation or arresting a government servant.
The same was relayed by the PM’s aide in his presser, probably to remove the confusion prevalent in the certian sections of media about the fate of NAB. He said that the amendment does not change the laws pertaining to bail and remand.
Giving reasons for the amendment in NAB, he said that matters pertaining to federal and provincial taxation, levies or imposts will not fall under the ambit of the accountability watchdog and the cases will be handled by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) instead.
“Similarly, the watchdog will not scrutinise any person or entity, or transaction in relation thereto, who or which are not directly or indirectly connected with a holder of public office,” he added.
Akbar said another aim of bringing in the amendments was to address the clause of “misuse of authority”. He said previously the law was such that a person could be embroiled in a NAB case simply for having made a wrong decision.
“So an addition to the clause has been made whereby when a person is using their authority — whether its a public office holder or a minister or a businessman — and they are charged with having misused it, it will be examined whether there was personal monetary benefit attached to their decision.” “If such an advantage emerges only then will it be considered corruption.”
The adviser said that Section 4(2) B was also a very important section. Under it, it has been outlined that the NAB law will not be applicable to any person who himself is not a public officer holder, has no relation with a public office holder, and does not have any means of “using authority”.
“Cases in which government officeholders have used their authority for kickbacks already do fall within the scope of NAB’s investigations.
“In cases of ‘assets beyond known sources of income’, a government official can be probed by NAB but not a common man. In the case of the common man, he will be investigated by FBR,” explained Akbar.
Akbar said that if a common man or businessman cheats the public at large, for example with a modarba scam, the case will fall within NAB’s jurisdiction.
Also, if there is criminal breach of trust by an ordinary man whereby, for example, he cheats someone out of money kept with him for safekeeping, it will be a case NAB will investigate.
The third exception is breach of trust in the capacity of merchant, attorney, bank or agent. If any of these professionals cheat the public, they will be held accountable by NAB.
He also explained a sub-section of the ordinance pertaining to procedural lapses. “If there is a procedural lapse, if a rule has been violated but there is no element of corruption and no undue advantage, [it won’t be taken up by NAB].”
Akbar then explained a sub-section which states that no action will be taken against any public office holder over the rendition of any advice, opinion or report by them unless proof of corruption or benefit is provided.
He said that another sub-section also explains that assets when assessed will be valued according to whichever is higher among the DC (government) rate or the FBR rate.
The PM’s aide also explained another clause regarding “defence of good faith” contained in Section 36 of the existing law.
“For example, NAB makes a case against a person who is later exonerated. He will have to take the action in good faith. He will not be able to file a case against NAB officers and allege that they committed injustice.
“If they had evidence and went forward with the case, they had no ill will. Unless the person can prove personal enmity.”
He said the same good faith defence was available to civil service officers and bureaucrats unless corruption is proved against them.
The adviser on accountability also clarified that the ordinance will remain in effect for a period no less than four months and up to eight months “after which it will go to the parliament”.
He said the government will not compromise its core pledge of holding corrupt elements accountable before the law.
The special assistant said that the process of accountability will continue and the government is taking steps to revamp and strengthen institutions and to make them more powerful.
“The economy was in ICU when PTI assumed power but now it is out of danger and is moving towards growth,” he said, adding that incumbent government is working hard to make the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) an effective institution as well.