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ISLAMABAD: The country's top bureaucracy has sought massive changes in National Accountability Bureau's (NAB's) law, saying that no inquiry should be conducted against any government servant sans approval of a high-level committee headed by Chairman NAB and comprising Secretaries, Chairman SECP, Chairman FBR and representative of Law Ministry, well-informed sources told Business Recorder.

Changes in NAB laws have been prepared for the Prime Minister, who together with his Ministers and special aides has expressed reservations against NAB laws that have almost jammed the working of government.

Finance Minister, Shaukat Tarin, recently stated that the bureaucrats have stopped signing on files due to fear of NAB. Federal Minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Commerce Advisor, Abdul Razak Dawood, SAPM on Power and Petroleum Tabish Gauhar have also spoken against NAB actions.

A number of incumbent and former Secretaries, Additional Secretaries, Joint Secretaries, Managing Directors, and Chairmen of different organisations are facing NAB investigations and/or references in Accountability Courts.

The sources said proposed changes have been finalized after two-year consultations by two panels of Secretaries' Committee.

Sharing details, sources said the matter was taken up as an additional agenda item in the Secretaries Committee in its meeting on March 20, 2019. It was pointed out by the members that the handling of investigation by NAB was uncalled for on many counts. The interrogation and investigation process was humiliating for government officers and led to demoralization and de-motivated civil bureaucracy and these concerns must be addressed.

It was decided that all members may convey their concerns to Secretary Establishment Division for firming up concrete proposal for consideration by the Federal Cabinet.

Following the decision, Establishment Division asked all the Federal Secretaries to convey their comments/views on the subject issue. Establishment Division submitted an interim report before the Secretaries' Committee in its meeting on June 20, 2019. Subsequently, a sub- committee was constituted on June 27, 2019 to review the subject report/matter and submit recommendations for consideration of the Secretaries' Committee, comprising of: (i) Secretary, Communications Division (Chairman); (ii) Secretary, Industries & Production Division (Member); (iii) Secretary, Defence Division or his representative (Member); (iv) Secretary, Foreign Affairs or his representative (Member); (v) Secretary, Interior Division or his representative (Member); and (vi) representative from Law & Justice Division.

The sub-committee submitted its report on September 31, 2019 along with proposals on the subject of "National Accountability Bureau and Bureaucracy" and standard guidelines on the subject of "Internal Accountability Mechanism" for consideration of the Secretaries' Committee. The report of the sub-committee was taken up on the agenda of the Secretaries' Committee meeting on October 10, 2019.

The sub-committee gave broader guidelines to bring specific changes in the NAB Ordinance such as restraining NAB for taking cognizance in issues of petty corruption; bar on media coverage, analysis or commentary during inquiry, investigation and trial stage under NAB laws; review of remand period of three months; introduction of right of bail under NAB laws; onus of proof to be put on the prosecution; suo motu powers to the Chairman, NAB need to be revisited; the time frame for completion of inquiries, investigations and prosecution is required to be specified and the period of remand may also be rationalized; bar on the accountability court to take bail needs to be revisited and the provision of "Plea Bargain" under section 25 of the NAO, 1999 at the discretion of NAB may also be revisited; there is no indemnity to civil servants for exercising their powers and performing of functions under their respective jurisdictions in "good faith" as provided to NAB officials under section 36 of the NAO, 1999.

In the light of the report/recommendations of the sub-committee and further deliberation on the matter, the Secretaries Committee unanimously recommended a thorough review of the NAB law to make the Bureau an effective and efficient accountability institution, while at the same time ensuring due process and safeguards of the rights of those taking decisions in good faith using their best judgment and exercising legitimate authority.

In the Secretaries Committee meeting on November 4, 2019, the members were informed that the following Sub-Committee was set up by the Cabinet Secretary and tasked to examine various proposals for amendments in the NAB law, suggested by Federal Secretaries and to develop a consolidated proposal for the consideration of the Secretaries' Committee and comprised of: (i) Afzal Latif then Additional Secretary-II, Cabinet Division, now Secretary Establishment Division( Convener); (ii) Asif Hyder Shah then Additional Secretary-Cabinet Division (Member); (iii) Jawad Paul then Additional Secretary, IT & T Division (Member); and (iv) Qamar Sawar Abbasi then Joint Secretary (Cabinet) Cabinet Division (Member).

The sources said a thorough discussion on every aspect of the Law was carried out. The Secretaries' Committee endorsed the modified draft amendments in the NAB law and decided that the final draft of the amendments recommended by the Committee will be submitted to the Prime Minister's Office by the Cabinet Secretary.

The specific recommendations/changes are as follows: in Sec. 5, paragraph (n), after the words "this ordinance" occurring for the first time, the words "of the value not less than five hundred million rupees" shall be inserted.

In Sec. 8, paragraph (a), the words "President of Pakistan in consultation with "the 2 Chairman NAB" shall be substituted by the words "Federal Government".

In Sec. 9, paragraph (a) (iv), the words "or any other person" occurring after the word "dependents" shall be omitted.

In Sec. 14, paragraph (d), the word "not" shall be inserted after the word "shall" appearing for the second time and before the words "be guilty"; and a full stop sign shall be inserted after the word "offence"; and all words occurring after the word and full stop "offence." shall be omitted.

In Sec. 18, paragraph (f) the words appearing after the word "completed" shall be deleted; and the words "within six months" shall be inserted.

In Sec. 19, paragraph (a), the words "or documents" shall be inserted after the word "information" and before the word "from"; and comma and words ", in writing," may be inserted between the words "person" and the word "for" In Sec.24, paragraph (d), the words "inquiry and" occurring after the words "purpose of" shall be omitted; and the words "ninety days" occurring between the word "exceeding" and the words "and the court" may be substituted by the words "fourteen days". In section 26, (b), after the word "Magistrate" and the words "in the presence of the accused, who shall be given an opportunity of cross examining the person and the person" shall be inserted. The word "and" appearing before the word "shall" be omitted.

In Sec. 31, after paragraph (b) a new paragraph may be inserted namely as S. 31 (c) No government servant will be proceeded against under this section except with sanction of the Scrutiny Committee.

A new Section shall be inserted after Section 33E as under:"33 F. 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 i.e. (i) Chairman NAB (Convener); (ii) Cabinet Secretary; (iii) Secretary Establishment Division; (iv) Chairman SECP; (v) Chairman Federal Board of Revenue and ;(vi) representative of Law and Justice Division (not below the rank of BS-21), provided that the concerned Secretary of the Division or concerned Chief Secretary shall be co-opted as members of the Committee as the case may be; provided further that the Committee may co-opt any other person on case-to-case basis.

A new Section namely 33 G. shall be inserted: 33 G. when any government servant is accused of any offence alleged to have been committed by him, under this ordinance, while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of his official duty, no Court shall take cognizance of such offence except with the previous sanction:- (i) In the case of a person employed in connection with the affairs of the federation, of the President; and (ii) In the case of a person employed in connection with the affairs of a province, of Governor of that province.

In Sec. 34, the word "President" may be substituted by the words "Federal Government". A new Section shall be inserted after Section 36 as under: 36 A. The Chairman NAB shall devise a complaint redressal mechanism for attending complaints against NAB and present a quarterly report on its performance to the federal Government.

A new Section shall be inserted after Section 36 A i.e: 36 B. No officer of NAB shall issue a public statement with regard to any inquiry or investigation being carried out by NAB until a reference has been filed.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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