LHC raises objection to plea against NAB ordinance

Dunya News

The court pointed out that the petition could not be fixed for an immediate hearing.

LAHORE (Dunya News) – 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.

‘Revision of NAB law demanded by PML-N, PPP’

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.

Plea filed in SC

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.