Friction extends over NAB law

Govt vows to bring ordinance into Parliament Opposition blames govt of favouritism SC moved to invalidate amendments

By Ajmal Khan Yousafzai

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has said the NAB Amendment Ordinance, 2019 will be brought to Parliament for approval, asking parliamentarians to put forth “workable and positive” suggestions for further improving the ordinance.
In a statement on Monday, he said reforms in the NAB law were long overdue as a special parliamentary committee was also set up during the previous PML-N tenure for the purpose. The body did a lot of work on the reforms but unfortunately, couldn’t finish the assigned task, he added. FM Shah Mehmood Qureshi stressed the incumbent government has floated a proposal in the shape of the ordinance.This draft law will be brought to Parliament for legislation, the foreign minister said, asking parliamentarians to give suggestions, if they wish, in this regard.About loopholes in the NAB ordinance, Shah Mahmood said evidence gathered by the anti-graft watchdog in many cases appeared incomplete while the prosecution’s arguments were weak in other cases, which benefitted the people who looted the national exchequer. He said NAB could be revamped with loopholes addressed adequately to make it more effective.
FM Shah Mehmood Qureshi rejected the impression that NAB is being used for arm-twisting of political opponents. Meanwhile, Another petition challenging the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Amendment Ordinance, 2019 was moved in the Supreme Court on Monday. The petition states that the ordinance in question negates the principle of the rule of law and various constitutional provisions of human rights. “The NAB ordinance is a conspiracy to divide society,” argues the petitioner, requesting the top court to strike it down. The federal government, the Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR), the NAB, and the Security Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) have been impleaded as respondents in the constitutional petition. Earlier, on Dec 28, a citizen Mehmood Akhtar Naqvi had filed a petition at the Karachi Registry of the apex court challenging the amended law. President Dr Arif Alvi had signed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Amendment Ordinance 2019 into law last Friday. The petitioner has made the Government of Pakistan, Secretary Ministry of Law and Justice, secretaries of Cabinet Division, Ministry of Interior, Establishment Division, Chairman NAB, Director General Headquarters NAB and others as party in the case. The petitioner said, “All citizens are equal in the constitution of Pakistan, the amended ordinance is violation of the constitution and the fundamental rights of citizens”. The federal cabinet’s approval to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Ordinance 2019, is unprincipled and dubious, the petition said. “The amended ordinance has pushed the NAB under the subordination of the scrutiny committee, petitioner said which will thoroughly affect the utility and importance of the accountability bureau”. “It is being feared that the ordinance will affect the possibility of equal accountability of all,” the petition said. “It is cooked up to protect favorite people from accountability cases,” the petition claimed. According to the amended law, the NAB could not freeze the properties of government employees without a court order. If NAB fails to complete investigation against a suspect within three months, the accused will be entitled to bail, the law said. The anti-graft watchdog’s jurisdiction over matters relating to imports and levy has been curtailed in the amended law. As per the new ordinance, NAB will now only be able to proceed in corruption cases of Rs500 million and more. Agencies add: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday raised an objection to an application against the National Accountability (Amendment) Ordinance, 2019, promulgated by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government through a presidential ordinance on Friday bringing momentous alterations to the accountability law known as the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999. The court pointed out that the petition could not be fixed for an immediate hearing due to winter holidays, and it could be heard after holidays. Yesterday, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi clarified that the ordinance was not aimed at providing a National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), relief or protection to anybody. In his talk to the media in Multan, the minister pointed out that the revision of the anti-graft agency’s jurisdiction was demanded by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). “The amendment has not been made to protect corruption […] on one hand, it was being said that investors were not investing [in the country,” he said. Mr Qureshi lamented over opposition’s claim of dysfunctional economic (policies of the government), and putting resistance to economic affairs at the same time. “Government’s measures are criticised for economic stability [of the state],” he added, while regretting that criticism without thorough study of a subject has become a norm in our society. On Saturday, the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) received an application against the same amendment. The petition pleaded with the apex court to immediately order suspending the National Accountability (Amendment) Ordinance, 2019, while claiming that the amendment was against Article 25 of the Constitution, and an attempt to protect the corruption of ministers and government officials. According to the amendment, the NAB can now only take up cases involving corruption or corrupt practices exceeding an amount of Rs500 million, and no action will be launched against government employees in case of departmental deficiencies. “Notwithstanding anything contained in this ordinance or any other law for the time being in force, no inquiry, investigation, arrest or proceedings against a government servant, under this ordinance, either as an accused or witness, shall be initiated or conducted by NAB without prior approval of the scrutiny committee,” said a new clause inserted in Section 33-F of the ordinance. Another amendment barred the accountability watchdog from confiscating property of any public office holder without prior approval of the scrutiny committee. According to an amendment, “Inquiries and investigations shall stand transferred to the respective authorities or departments which administer the relevant laws of taxation, levies and imposts in question. “Trials shall stand transferred from the relevant accountability courts to the criminal courts which deal with offences under the respective laws pertaining to taxation, levies and imposts in question.” Furthermore, another amendment required the NAB chairman to devise a “complaint redressal mechanism for attending complaints against NAB” and present a quarterly report on its performance to the federal government. In a summary sent by the law ministry to the federal cabinet, the government claimed that the NAB was dealing a large number of inquiries and investigation including handling of mega corruption cases. “Under the existing regime a number of inquiries have been initiated against the holders of public office and government servants on account of procedural lapses where no actual corruption is involved. This has enhanced NAB’s burden and has also affected working of the federal government.” It further pointed that the NAB had assumed parallel jurisdiction and was inquiring into matters pertaining to taxation, imposition of levies and interference in the domain of taxation regulatory bodies. “It is therefore felt necessary to define through the subject amendments the operational domain of NAB,” it added. The anti-graft agency’s jurisdiction over matters relating to tax, stock exchange and IPOs has been curtailed. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and building control authorities will be the sole authorities tasked to act on all such matters.