ISLAMABAD: The Minister for Law and Justice, Dr Farogh Naseem, on Wednesday said that the top anti-graft body would have no jurisdiction over private persons – who do not hold any public office – under the amended National Accountability Ordinance, 1999.
Speaking at a presser along with Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary hours before the promulgation of National Accountability Ordinance, 1999 (NAO), the minister, while highlighting significant amendments made by the government in the NAB Ordinance, 1999, said that it had not been decided whether the current NAB chairman would be reappointed, adding that the word “non-extendable” now stood omitted from the ordinance to create “a big pool” for selection.
He explained that the chairman NAB’s appointment would be made by president of Pakistan in consultation with both the prime minister and the opposition leader in the National Assembly.
“Even then if the consultation is not consensus-oriented, a parliamentary committee will be formed by speaker National Assembly having six members each from the opposition and the government to decide the issue of NAB chairman’s appointment,” he added.
Any complaints of misconduct against the NAB chairman, he added, would be referred to Supreme Judicial Council (SJC).
He emphasized that the incumbent chairman NAB would continue to serve in the position until the new chairman is appointed.
The minister said that a private person not connected to a public office was now out of the NAB’s jurisdiction, adding that an amendment was also made for bureaucracy as it was among the important pillars of the country.
“We are also enhancing the role of prosecutor general because this position has power and function all over the world. After the amendment, the NAB will also take advice from it,” he added. He said that the prosecutor would have to ensure fairness and fundamental rights in relation to cases, adding that the prosecutor will advise whether the prosecution should continue or not.
With the amended NAB ordinance, he said all taxation matters will be transferred to the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), adding that the development will not end cases, but just change the forum as in tax issues, recovery of the amount is a basic criterion.
He thanked Chief Justice Supreme Court of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed for his efforts to speed up legal cases, and added that 30 out of the 90 additional accountability courts sought by the Supreme Court had been established.
“Now we are reworking on the method for the appointment of former judges into these courts as we want a bigger pool. We don’t have the number of judges to fill all vacancies,” he added.
He said that it was decided that district or additional district judges would qualify to become NAB court judges, adding the pool will comprise retired judges of special courts and high courts, civil judges, and additional district judges.
“If their age is below 68 years, consultation will be held with the chief justice of Pakistan,” he added.
The law minister said that earlier it was a moot point that trial courts lacked powers to grant bail, but now bail powers are being given to trial courts.
He said that there was also another problem related to plea bargains and voluntary return, but under the amended ordinance, it has been fixed.“Those opting for voluntary return will face disqualification for 10 years and this amendment will take effect retroactively,” he added.
Dr Naseem stressed that people falling in the above category should resign before action was taken against them.
In future case management hearings, he added, modern devices would be used for recording evidence, and audio-video recording would be conducted of the entire testimony to ensure accuracy.
Provisions have also been made to record the demeanour of any judge, adding if a bank or financial institution takes any decision, the NAB will take no action on it until prior approval of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) governor.
“The ordinance will also enhance the role of SBP governor. Decisions of ECNEC, the federal cabinet, the Council of Common Interest (CCI), and constitutional bodies will also be out of the NAB’s authority,” he declared.
Speaking on the occasion, the information minister said following the ordinance, it would also be presented in the form of an act. “We will consult the opposition on it and we are inviting them to propose amendments to it, we will introduce reforms through an act of parliament,” he added.
He said that Prime Minister Imran Khan believed that the NAB should not have an extended scope that creates confusion. “We have removed private disputes, banking disputes and tax evasion from the NAB’s scope and the watchdog will now focus on major corruption,” he added.
He explained that the prosecutor general would file cases and would be responsible to make sure punishment was doled out, adding “we also intend to stop the NAB from doing the dirty work and take cases to their logical conclusion”. The minister reiterated that Prime Minister Imran would not consult Shehbaz Sharif regarding appointment of the new chairman NAB.
“The consultation with the opposition is a yes, and consultation with Shehbaz Sharif is a no. This is our clear stance,” he added.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021