ISLAMABAD: The government and opposition parties are engaged in negotiations to amend the relevant law to provide facilities to the accused held by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), which are otherwise available to all suspects arrested on different charges including heinous crimes.
“The fourth meeting of the two sides will be held on Wednesday to discuss the amendments in the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999,” former Speaker and senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Sardar Ayaz Sadiq said when contacted by The News.
At least two important changes in the NAO have been necessitated by a Supreme Court judgment authored by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa in mid-November this year. The government and the Parliament have no option but to take the proposed changes very seriously, according to leading constitutional expert Wasim Sajjad.
One of the suggested amendments relates to the grant of bail to the accused, detained by the NAB, while the other seeks undoing of the “unrealistic” timeframe of thirty days to decide a reference by an accountability court.
Justice Khosa, who will become the chief justice next month, wrote that in the changed scenario, the legislature may, if so advised, consider amending the NAO appropriately so as to enable an accused person to apply for his bail before the relevant accountability court in the first instance. It is implied that the accused will go to the high court subsequently and to the Supreme Court, if the bail was refused.
Justice Khosa said intention behind introduction of Section 9(b) of the NAO, which ousted jurisdiction of the superior courts regarding grant of bail, already stood neutralized due to opening of the door for bail through exercise of constitutional jurisdiction of a high court.
Resultantly, he wrote, the entire burden was being shouldered by the high courts, which was an unnecessary drain on their precious time. He said that the high courts’ and the Supreme Court had always felt difficulty in adjusting the requirements of “without lawful authority” and “of no legal effect” relevant to a writ of certiorari [Article 199(1)(a)(ii) of the Constitution] with the requirements of bail provided in Section 497 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
The judge also recommended revision of the unrealistic timeframe [thirty days] for conclusion of a trial as specified in Section 16 (a). It has never happened that an accountability court decided a reference within thirty days.
Ayaz Sadiq, Rana Sanaullah, Naveed Qamar and a Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) nominee will represent the opposition in the dialogue with Law Minister Farough Naseem, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ali Muhammad Khan and other government representatives. “Not only the NAO, but amendments in some other laws will also be taken into consideration in the meeting,” he said adding that three days back, the government side asked them about their availability on Wednesday.
Another draconian clause of the NAO which is likely to be drastically amended is the ninety-day physical remand period of the accused. It is expected to be reduced to a maximum of thirty days after which the accused will be sent to jail.
Ayaz Sadiq said that the opposition has prepared over a dozen amendments in the NAO, which are being discussed with the government side. One of them is diluting the absolute authority the NAB chairman, which is not available to the head of any agency in Pakistan. Even a murder accused is not kept in custody by police for such a long time, Wasim Sajjad said.
Ayaz Sadiq said that the opposition has proposed that a three-member committee comprising the NAB chairman, and the Directors General of Finance and Law should take decisions in the anti-graft agency instead of just one man. “It will make the NAB affairs transparent and fair and shun the arbitrariness.”
Additionally, he said, another recommendation of the opposition is that the office of the prosecutor general should be separated and be made independent and autonomous to take decisions instead of bowing to what the NAB chairman determines. At present, he said, the NAB chief is the sole authority. Yet another proposal being debated is to bar the NAB from releasing information related to the offence of the accused during investigation because such a campaign is always meant to malign him before framing of charges in a court of law and subsequent conviction. It also says that officials should face penal consequences over releasing information which may damage the reputation of the accused persons.
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) wants to provide in the NAO across the board accountability to also include the judges and generals in the process but the government is adamant not to do so. The proposal is unlikely to be accepted.