May 26, 2022
By Rehan Piracha
The National Assembly passed a bill with wide-ranging amendments to the accountability law in a bid to stem the use of the controversial National Accountability Bureau as a tool of political victimisation by successive governments.
On May 26, Federal Law Minister presented the National Accountability (Second Amendment) Bill, 2021 in the National Assembly. According to the minister, members has proposed 25 amendments to the bill which was approved by the standing committee in the tenure of the Pakistan Tehreek-Insaaf government.
Speaking on the floor of the house, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar said the National Accountability Ordinance was a singular most criticised piece of legislation and the judiciary had time to time called upon parliament to amend certain provisions violative of human rights. He said the amendment bill sought to do away with controversial changes brought to the NAB through two separate ordinances by the former Imran Khan government.
Officials won’t be tried for misuse of authority
“One of the amendments is that it removes misuse or mistaken use of authority by government officials from the purview of NAB so that honest officials are not victimised or arm twisted by the government,” he said while explaining salient features of the amendment bill. “Action will be taken only on the evidence of corrupt and corrupt practices by a government servant under the amendment bill,” he added.
Accused to get bail
He said the accused would be able to secure release on bail provided that they join the investigation and do not flee the country as is the case with several other crimes under the law. “The amendment bill also does away the 90-day remand of an accused,” he added. The period of remand would also be reduced from 90 days to 14 days. If convicted, a person would be able to file an appeal for 30 days instead of 10 days previously.
No extension in tenure of NAB chief
The amendment bill removed the four-year extension in term given to an incumbent NAB chairman as well as allowed him to continue in office till a successor is appointed under the ordinance issued in the previous government’s tenure.
The NAB deputy chairman would become acting chairman following a chairman’s retirement. The process to appoint a new chairman would begin two months prior to the chief’s retirement and be completed in 40 days.
According to the bill, if the prime minister and leader of the opposition are unable to agree on an appointee, the matter would be referred to the parliamentary committee. The parliamentary committee would then finalise the name for a new chairman within 30 days.
The corruption watchdog’s wide-ranging purview has been clipped with the removal of federal and provincial tax matters. NAB would also not investigate regulatory bodies’ decisions.
The judges would be appointed in accountability courts for a three-year period and cases have to be decided within a year. The bureau would also be bound to ensure the availability of evidence prior to arrest.
5-year jail for false reference
In order to deter NAB officials from filing trumped cases, they would face up to five-years imprisonment for filing a false reference.
NAB would submit their reports to parliament instead of the President under the amendment bill. Interestingly, the amendment bill would be enforced across the country with retrospective effect from the promulgation of the National Accountability Ordinance in 1999. The House approved the bill with the majority.
Bill removes use of EVMs, votes for overseas Pakistanis
In another important legislation, the National Assembly of Pakistan passed the Elections (Amendment) Bill 2022 that would remove the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in general elections as well as bar overseas Pakistanis from voting.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Murtaza Javed Abbasi presented the bill that was passed with a majority vote, with only members of the Grand Democratic Alliance opposing it. Earlier, the minister presented a motion for allowing the bill to be sent directly to the Senate for its approval, bypassing the relevant standing committee. The motion was also passed by the NA with a majority vote.
The PTI government had made the amendments through the Elections (Second Amendment) Bill, 2021, which it had bulldozed through the NA along with 32 other legislations on November 17, 2021.
The law minister said the Election Act amendment sought to restore the Elections Act, 2017 which was passed with the consensus of all political parties.
Under the new bill, he said, two amendments were being made to Sections 94 and 103 of the Act, both of which pertain to the ECP conducting pilot projects for overseas voting and the use of EVMs.
He clarified that consultation was in process over wide-ranging election reforms. He said the coalition government was not removing the right to vote for overseas Pakistanis. “There is a proposal in consideration that overseas Pakistani vote in their specific zones to choose their representatives through a constitutional amendment,” he explained. “Overseas could stand as candidates from the platform of their own parties to become part of Parliament,” he added.
Ministries of Parliamentary Affairs, Law and Justice and Overseas Pakistani have been instructed to consult with overseas to bring out an electoral package for overseas Pakistanis, the minister said.
Under the amendment in Section 94 of the Election Act, 2017, the ECP may conduct pilot projects for voting by overseas Pakistanis in by-elections to ascertain the technical efficacy, secrecy, security, and financial feasibility of such voting and shall share the results with the government, which shall, within 15 days from the commencement of a session of a house after the receipt of the report, lay the same before both houses of parliament.
Under the amendment in Section 103 of the Election Act, 2017, the ECP may conduct pilot projects for the utilisation of EVMs and biometric verification system in the by-elections.
The law minister said the Election Commission of Pakistan had also raised objections to the use of EVMs but clarified that the government was not against the use of technology.