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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court asked the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s lawyer to prove how the amendments have diluted the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999, and are contrary to the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.

A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah on Tuesday heard the constitutional petition of PTI Chairman Imran Khan against the amendments in the NAO 1999. The court decided to hear the case on a day-to-day basis.

At the conclusion of Khawaja Haris’s arguments, Justice Bandial asked him, “You have to show that the amendments have diluted the law [NAO] and are in violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens and that these amendments were made in breach of the pre-NAO laws.” He further asked him to point out specifically which amendments are contrary to the fundamental rights.

Haris, representing the PTI chief, argued that the accountability courts across the country are in the process to return the references against prominent politicians to the NAB, adding most of the references have been returned.

The bulk of the References were or are pending in the Accountability Courts are in respect of offences under sections 9(a)(v), 9(a)(vi) and 9(a)(ix) of NAO, 1999, and these are the offences that have been radically affected by the impugned amendments, he added.

Haris at the start of his arguments explained the genesis of the NAO and gave the history of the various anti-corruption laws enacted from time to time in the country and drew their comparison with the NAO provisions. He said erstwhile laws had also dealt with the public office holders, which covered the bureaucrats and civil servants.

Justice Mansoor inquired whether the definition of public office holders included the judges and the armed forces. Haris contended that the laws enacted during the tenure of dictators were draconian, but the laws, legislated through parliament, were comprehensive. Justice Mansoor questioned any reason why the judges and the armed forces personnel were excluded from the definition of public office holders in the NAO. Haris said there is a special law for them.

The chief justice said a few days ago, he read an article that accountability is deeply rooted in our jurisprudence and judicial history. Haris said in the past, the Courts have directed that certain laws be made and implemented.

He said that from 2018 to 2020, Rs18 billion were spent on the investigation and inquiry of various cases. He said as claimed by the Bureau, huge recoveries were made, as a result of the plea bargaining and voluntary return.

However, pursuant to the impugned amendments, the entire amount (Rs18 billion) of public money has gone down the drain, while, simultaneously, all such references, pending against the former and incumbent holders of public office, and their associates, aiders and abettors, as well as the private persons, on charges of misappropriation of hundreds of billions of rupees belonging to the people of Pakistan, have been brought to naught, Haris said.

Justice Bandial asked the counsel you mean to say that the impugned amendments are in derogation to the standard that we have maintained over the long period.

Haris said: “Accountability of the public office holders is necessary and we can’t close our eyes to corruption as it has spread so much and it is affecting the society.”

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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