Future direction of accountability unpredictable

By: Ashraf Mumtaz      Published: 05:01 PM, 26 Jul, 2020
Future direction of accountability unpredictable

The Supreme Court wants the National Accountability Bureau to decide cases expeditiously; the NAB has identified a number of factors responsible for the delay; opposition parties have now abandoned their demand for the disbandment of the NAB but seek its “emasculation”; the ruling PTI is willing to make some changes to the accountability laws.

Apparently, those who have to make decisions for ensuring quick justice remain poles apart. According to some media reports, some behind-the-scene mediation is going on to bridge the gap between the relevant parties. However, it is not possible for anyone to predict what turn the situation is expected to take in times ahead.

The NAB chairman, who himself is a former judge of the Supreme Court, has conceded in a report submitted to the top court that it is impossible to adjudicate and finalise a corruption reference within 30 days.

He has listed a number of reasons for delays in concluding trials, interlocutory orders issued by courts, a long list of witnesses, suspension of voluntary return under Section 25(a) of the NAO being some of them.

The NAB chief’s report suggests a change in the procedure to make the appointment of accountability court judges within 10 days. Also, it says, the tenure of these judges be increased to five years from the current three.

As for Supreme Court’s recent directive for the appointment of 120 judges for accountability courts, the law ministry has told the apex court that an amount of Rs2.8 billion would be required for the purpose.

According to a report, the opposition parties have apprised the mediators that they want drastic changes in the NAB law so that it is not abused to hound, harass and jail people without the availability of concrete evidence.

These parties want a NAB chairman without the power to arrest any person, wanted for inquiry, investigation.

The NAB, the draft of these parties says, could seek arrest of any accused from the court, which will have the authority to get anyone behind the bars during the course of inquiry, investigations and during trial of the case. These parties propose a maximum of 14 days’ remand of an accused instead of the present 90 days.

The draft changes bar the NAB from proceeding in matters including (a) transactions and matters pertaining to federal or provincial taxation, duties, levies or imposts; (b) matters, including incidental matters, which have been decided by, or fall within the jurisdiction of a regulatory body established under federal or provincial law; (c) decisions of cabinet, ECC, CCI, ECNEC, or any other policy-making statutory body established under federal law or provincial law:(d) a transaction or subject matter not involving any property, funds or fiscal interest of the federal or provincial government.

The provisions of the proposed law, opposition parties say, shall not apply to transactions and persons if the subject matter thereof and/or loss to the federal government or a provincial government, as the case may be, is less than Rs1 billion.

The draft law also suggests the transfer of all inquiries, investigations and NAB cases, which does not fall in the jurisdiction of proposed NAB law, to the respective authorities or departments which administer the relevant laws of taxation, levies or imposts or exercise such regulatory powers by whatever name called.

It is also being demanded that the members of the Parliament, parliamentary secretaries should be excluded from the definition of public office holders.

The draft law proposes a three-year non-extendable tenure of the NAB chairman.

The draft law also dis-empowers the chairman NAB from ordering the seizure of property of any accused.

The proposed law also proposes a maximum of six months’ trial of a NAB case with the NAB having one right to appeal.

It says the NAB shall not conduct any inquiry or investigation or file any reference for an alleged offence after the passing of seven years from the date of the transaction or act constituting the offence.

This means matters concerning earlier periods will be out of the graft-buster’s jurisdiction.

The NAB shall not initiate action on allegations (i) contained in a complaint which is anonymous or pseudonymous: (ii) which do not involve public money: (iii) which, under the provisions of any law for the time being in force, cannot be investigated due to lapse of time or relate to a period for which records need not be maintained by the holder of public office; (v) which relate to the business of government-controlled public or private limited or other companies for which regulatory provisions exist in their parent statutes or any other law for the time being in force, including the Securities Act, 2015; (vi) which relate to decisions of a government official committee at the ministerial level on matters falling within its purview. 

The NAB section dealing with the voluntary return is suggested to be omitted while in the case of a plea-bargain, the suggested change provides that if a holder of the public office offers to return the assets or gains acquired or made by him in the course, or as a consequence of any offence under this ordinance, such a person shall cease to hold public office forthwith and shall stand disqualified for a period of 10 years, to be reckoned from the date he has discharged his liabilities relating to the matter or transaction in issue, for seeking or from being elected. 

Trial of the NAB accused is proposed to be carried out in the province from where he is elected or served. The suggested changes also proposed all fresh appointments in the NAB to be made by the FPSC.

The NAB is also barred from making any statement in public or to the media regarding persons involved in any inquiry or investigation conducted by the NAB until a reference has been filed against such person. Any NAB official violating this provision shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, but shall not be less than one month in any case and with a fine of Rs1 million. 

The suggested law also provides for filing a complaint or brings a suit against any officer of NAB for physical torture or harassment caused by NAB officers or for falsely implicating any person, exaggerating or fabricating charges or evidence in the matter.

All eyes are set at the directions coming from the Supreme Court for the future NAB course.