ISLAMABAD: At least three amendments in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) law, separately proposed by the main opposing sides, are largely similar, which may win parliamentary approval without any hassle.
Certain reported government amendments don’t figure in the opposition’s proposals and vice versa, a reading of the two documents showed.
There is a strong possibility that the two drafts may be married during talks between the two sides to come out with a consensus document for unanimous approval from the parliament otherwise a deadlock is feared.
Federal Law Minister Dr Farough Naseem has announced to promulgate a presidential ordinance to incorporate amendments in the NAB law while the opposition is poised to pass a disapproving resolution to kill such legislation if no agreement is reached with the government.
The law minister has unofficially floated a package while senior Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Senator Farooq H Naek has formally moved a private member’s bill in the Upper House of Parliament. The moves indicate that both sides wish to change the NAB law.
One of the similar amendments pertains to empowering trial accountability court to grant pre-and post-arrest bail. The official proposal also says an accused will be released on bail if an inquiry under the NAB law is not concluded within three months.
Another identical amendment relates to the introduction of a threshold of alleged corruption of Rs500 million that the NAB will be authorised to investigate so that it is halted from looking into petty malpractices and irregularities.
Yet another similar proposal pertains to plea bargain (PB) and voluntary return (VR). The official amendment says that the PB and VR will lead to disqualification of public office holder to hold office or employment for a period of 10 years or any other period.
The Naek proposal says that the concept of PB and VR will be made in line with modern jurisprudence of the
superior courts. It will be carried out through court and a person availing it would not contest election but would not be jailed.
The PPP leader’s amendments, which are different from those of the official draft, include: Powers of arrest will be taken away from the NAB chairman/officials, who will not be authorised detention at all, let alone for 90 days. There is no need of custodial investigation as the probe can be carried out and a person can be questioned in the NAB office without
being detained overnight. Custodial investigation is against freedom and right of life of a person.
People will be presumed innocent until proven guilty in cases of illegal gratification which is the cardinal principle of criminal jurisdiction and doctrine that a person is innocent until proven guilty; only those public office holders will be prosecuted who have assets which are the outcome of corruption and corrupt practices and not otherwise.
A person will only be answerable to questions posed with reference to specific allegations against him. There will be no fishing expedition or roving inquiry and asking questions which are violative of Article 13 (b) of the Constitution that stipulates that no one can be forced to make statement against his own self; and the NAB chairman not be authorised to declare any place a sub-jail as this is the job of the provincial government.
The courts will be strengthened by giving them more power of supervision over the NAB chairman by supervision of PB and receiving investigation reports, which is the basis for filing of a reference. This is in consonance with Article 75(3). There would be no prosecution without due process of law.
No NAB official, in any capacity, will make any statement in public or to the media regarding persons involved in any inquiry or investigation conducted by it until a reference has been filed against them. Its violation will be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year but shall not be less than one month and with a fine of Rs100000. It has been proposed to protect the dignity of person through a restriction on NAB officials from issuing statements.
Another amendment says that NAB cases be given the same treatment as others under the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and that the accused accorded an opportunity to cross-examine the approver at the time his statement is being recorded. The application of CrPC covers the remand period etc. The official amendment suggests
the reduction of physical remand period from 90 days to 45 days.
The amendments mentioned in the official draft, which aren’t cited in the Naek proposals include: private citizens or entities, which are directly and indirectly unconnected with a public office holder, will be excluded from the purview of the NAB law; civil servants’ lapses will not be categorised as offences and the NAB will not take cognizance of offences based on procedural slips unless there is evidence corroborating that the officer has materially benefited from such a decision or lapse; an underlying criminal intent and action resulting in an illegal or unjustifiable increase in the assets of a government servant will be cognizable; and a bureaucrat’s assets will not be frozen solely on account of a belief that he committed an offence and his property will be frozen once the officer has been convicted by the court; and NAB’s jurisdiction on tax matters and stock markets will be dispensed with.