ISLAMABAD (Dunya News) – The Supreme Court on Wednesday gave the government three months to bring a new National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) while hearing a suo motu case concerning the voluntary return of misappropriated funds in graft cases.
The government overhauled the accountability law known as the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999, last month through a presidential ordinance, bringing momentous alterations in powers of the accountability watchdog.
An application was filed with the apex court against the amendment to immediately order its suspension while terming it the violation of Article 25 of the Constitution and an attempt to protect corruption.
Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed ordered the government to not prolong the matter, or otherwise, the top court would itself give ruling in the case upon expiry of three months.
“The Supreme Court has [already] restricted the NAB from [using] plea bargain,” he said, adding that until legislation in the parliament the plea bargain power could not be used by the authority.
The top judge further observed that it was responsibility of the parliament to perform amendment in the NAB law.
“If any of the NAB provisions is termed “unconstitutional”, the NAB will not stay functional,” he mentioned, while asking does the government wanted the court to order suspension of the NAB ordinance?
The court further pointed out that the NAB (Amendment) Ordinance has paralysed the functionality of the accountability watchdog while there were cases pending for even 10 years with the bureau.
The court observed that the NAB initially conducts inquiry followed by investigation, at the later stage, and dozens of witnesses’ statements are recorded in the graft cases.
“In such manner, the case(s) will never end,” Justice Gulzar remarked, adding that even in the voluntary return of misappropriated funds in graft cases, the plunderers would still suffer “consequences.”
Meanwhile, the top judge also expressed hope that the matter would be resolved concerning the issue while Senator Farooq Naek has already presented a bill for amendment in the ordinance.
“The government has been trying to bring consensus among political parties,” the court stated.
It has been observed that the plea bargain provision in the anti-graft law that allows for voluntary return of the embezzled/ misappropriated money was in conflict with the provisions of the Constitution, since it promoted corruption.
NAB (Amendment) Ordinance
The federal cabinet on Dec. 27 approved a circulation summary, and issued the NAB (Amendment) Ordinance 2019 after President Dr Arif Alvi promulgated it.
According to the amended ordinance, the anti-graft watchdog will no longer be allowed to take action against government employees and Bureau will not seize property of government officials without the orders of the court. No action will be launched against government employees in case of departmental deficiencies, as per the proposed ordinance.
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.
If the accountability watchdog cannot complete an investigation against a suspect within three months, the accused will be entitled to bail.
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 and building control authorities will be the sole authorities tasked to act on all such matters.
“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 it, “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.