–CJP takes NAB to task over inefficiency, says bureau takes decades to conclude graft cases
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday gave the federal government three months to decide on the matter concerning Section 25 (a) of the National Accountability Ordinance 1999, that governs voluntary return and plea bargains.
According to Section 25 (a), “Where before the commencement of the trial at any time thereafter, with the leave of the Court, the holder of a public office or any other person accused of any offence under this Ordinance voluntarily returns to the NAB, the assets or gains acquired through corruption or corrupt practices and discloses the full particulars relating thereto, the Chairman NAB, may release the accused person with the leave of the Court, or, proceed with the trial subject to such conditions if any, as may be imposed by the Court.”
A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Sajjad Ali Shah was hearing a 2016 suo motu case pertaining to NAB laws.
As the hearing began on Wednesday, the CJP inquired whether Section 25 (a) had been removed or amended by now. Advocate Farooq H Naek informed the bench that a private member’s bill regarding NAB laws was pending before a Senate committee.
“Once the committee approves it, the bill will be tabled in the Parliament,” he said. “The bill calls for a complete omission of Section 25 (a).”
The petitioner lamented that the case has been pending since 2016 and had not reached a conclusion despite 15 hearings.
Justice Ahmed asked if the petitioner wanted to hold further deliberations in the case. “We are about to decide on the matter,” he said. “If you want, you can present arguments on how Section 25 (a) of the NAB Ordinance 1999 violates the Constitution of Pakistan.”
The top judge also inquired if the petitioner wanted an individual who voluntarily reimburses money, should also admit to the crime and be considered an offender. “Is anyone still benefiting from the clause?” he asked.
The petitioner replied that Section 25 (a) was ineffective since the apex court’s last ruling. “The federal government has formulated new laws through NAB Amendment Ordinance 2019,” he added.
Justice Ahsan noted that the incumbent petition pertained to Section 25 (a). “This bill, in this case, is authored by Naek and not the government.”
Meanwhile, Additional Attorney General Amir Rahman informed the bench that the attorney general of Pakistan office’s stance was different from its predecessor.
Criticising NAB laws, the top judge remarked that the law ordains that first an inquiry will be held then an investigation plus testimonies of hundreds of witnesses. “This procedure can take up to a lifetime.”
“Where a Customs inquiry takes six months to be finalised, NAB investigations are pending for decades.”
Justice Ahmed observed that even those who voluntarily reimbursed the amount would face the consequences of corruption. “The Supreme Court has already prevented NAB from offering plea bargains. Until the Parliament decides on Section 25 (a), the clause is inapplicable.”
The top judge advised the federal government against delaying the matter. “It is the Parliament’s job to amend NAB laws. If the top court declares any of the laws unconstitutional then the bureau will be terminated,” he observed. “Does the government want NAB laws to be declared null and void?”