NAB chairman can thin out regional DGs’ sweeping powers

The News

ISLAMABAD: Like his predecessors, National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Chairman Justice (R) Javed Iqbal has wide powers including delegation of authority to any officer of the organisation that he can withdraw in his discretion without any legal impediment.

In the wake of different controversial arrests, the issue of taking back powers by the NAB chief from the regional directors-generals emerged after the surfacing of a possibility that he may withdraw certain authority passed on to them. Prime Minister Imran Khan was displeased over the detention of Dr Abdus Samad, Director, Archaeology & Museums, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, by the NAB.

“During our negotiations to amend the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) two months back, a process that stands stalled, we, among other recommendations, proposed to the government to dilute the powers of the NAB chairman so that he can’t assign any of them to his subordinates,” former Speaker Ayaz Sadiq told The News.

“We suggested that a panel comprising the NAB chief, prosecutor general and directors-generals of law and finance of the agency should be constituted to take key decisions in the anti-graft watchdog instead of one man.”

Ayaz Sadiq said that this would infuse transparency in the functions of the NAB and a wider group would be able to take decisions that would not impinge hard on those being investigated by the anti-corruption organisation. “We hope our proposal will be definitely given a serious thought whenever the government would agree to amend the NAO,” he hoped.

A reading of the NAO establishes that the 1999 law, framed by the Pervez Musharraf government, arms the NAB chairman with sweeping powers of arrest, initiation and winding up of investigations, freezing and seizure of accounts and properties, grant of pardon to accused persons, surveillance of a person with the permission of the high court concerned etc. As far as exercise of powers and their delegation is concerned, the entire NAO revolves around the NAB chief and its every other officer acts on his orders and directions as per the authority given by him. If his powers are curtailed as a result of a government-opposition agreement, he will be unable to transfer them to any official.

Even the deputy chairman, under Section 7, having no independent powers, “shall assist the NAB chairman in the performance of his duties and shall carry out such functions as may be directed by” him.

Similarly, the NAB Prosecutor General (PG), as per Section 8, “shall give advice to the NAB chairman upon such legal matters and perform such other duties of a legal character as may be referred or assigned by” him.

Under Section 34A, the NAB head may delegate any of his powers to and authorise performance of any of his functions by, an officer. Section 12 says the NAB chairman or an accountability court may, at any time, if there appear reasonable grounds for believing that the accused has committed such an offence, order the freezing of his property whether in his possession or in the possession of any relative, associate or person on his behalf. Freezing includes attachment, sealing, prohibiting, holding, controlling or managing any property either through a receiver or otherwise as may be directed by the NAB chief or court.

According to Section 26, the NAB chief may, with a view to obtaining the evidence of any person supposed to have been directly or indirectly concerned in or privy to any offence, tender a full or conditional pardon to him on condition of his making a full and true disclosure of the whole of the circumstances within his knowledge relating to the offence including the names of the persons involved therein whether as principals or abettors or otherwise.

If after completing the investigation of an offence against a public office holder or any other person, the NAB head is satisfied that no prima facie case is made out against him and the case may be closed, he will refer the matter to a court for approval and for the release of the accused, if in custody.

The NAB chairman having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case may file a reference before any accountability court established anywhere in Pakistan which will have the jurisdiction to try it. He may apply to any court of law or tribunal that any case involving any offence pending before such court or tribunal will be transferred to a court.

According to Section 25, where a public office holder or any other person, prior to the authorisation of investigation against him, voluntarily comes forward and offers to return the assets or gains acquired or made by him in the course, or as the consequence, of any offence, the NAB chief may accept such offer and after determination of the amount due from such person and its deposit with the NAB discharge such person from all his liability in respect of the matter or transaction in issue provided that the matter is not sub judice in any court of law.

Where at any time after the authorisation of investigation, before or after the commencement of the trial or during the pendency of an appeal, the accused offers to return to the NAB the assets or gains acquired by him, or as a consequence, of any offence, the NAB head may, in his discretion, after taking into consideration the facts and circumstances of the case, accept the offer on such terms and conditions as he may consider necessary, and if the accused agrees to return to the NAB the amount determined by the NAB chairman, the NAB chief will refer the case for the approval of the court concerned.

As per Section 18, no accountability court will take cognizance of any offence except on a reference made by the NAB chief or an officer authorised by him. No person facing charges under the NAO will be arrested without the permission of the NAB chief or any officer authorised by him.

The NAB head or any officer authorised by the federal government may request a foreign state to provide certain material and evidence required in an investigation. Under Section 24, the NAB chairman will have the power, at any stage of the inquiry or investigation, to direct that the accused, if not already arrested, be arrested. The NAB chief is not be required to consult the Federal Public Service Commission for making appointments and on matters relating to qualifications of persons for such appointments and methods of their recruitment.

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