The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted three months to the federal government to amend Section 25(a) of National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999, saying if it is not done in given time then the court will decide the matter on merit.
A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, heard the suo motu case to examine the vires of Section 25(a) of NAB Ordinance 1999, which empower chairman NAB to accept the offer by a person of voluntary return of the money illegally earned by him. He said those who will return money under section 25(a) would have to face consequences.
The court observed that in the last hearing they had directed to amend NAO provision regarding voluntary return, which has not been complied with yet. The court was informed that amendments to the NAO, 1999 have been proposed and all parties are agreed on them.
The Chief Justice remarked that NAB's wings will be clipped through amendments. He said the court has restrained the NAB authorities from entering into plea bargain under Section 25(a) of NAO, 1999, adding unless the Parliament legislates, the NAB could not use this power.
The CJP asked the government not to prolong the issue of amending the NAB law. He, however, said it is the Parliament's function to make amendments to the NAO. The Chief Justice warned if the apex court would declare sections of NAO unconstitutional then the NAB would become non-functional.
Justice Gulzar observed that under the NAO, 1999 the case should be decided in six months; however, the cases have been pending for as many as 10 years.
Earlier, the bench questioned whether the amendment to the section 25(a) has been made. "If the matter is not resolved in three months then will decide the matter according to the law and the merit," he said.
Farooq H Naek apprised the bench that his private member bill to amend 25(a) is before the Senate standing committee. After its approval, it will go to the Senate, he added.
Asad Kharal, one of the petitioners, contended that this case has been pending before the apex court since 2016 and till now no progress has been made after 15 hearings.
Addressing Kharal, the Chief Justice said, "It is your stance that a person who voluntarily returns money should first accept his crime. The person who returns money should be deemed accused." The CJP further asked him whether or not anyone is availing benefit of section 25(a) of NAO.
Kharal said that due to top court's order, section 25(a) is ineffective. He said the government is introducing amendments to the NAO.
Justice Ijaz asked Kharal, "Your case is related to section 25(a) and about that Farooq H Naek's bill is before the Senate committee."
The bench observed that NAB first holds inquiry and then starts investigation and makes 200 witnesses. This is why the case against an accused does not finish in his life.
The case was adjourned for an indefinite period.
The then Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali in September 2016 had taken suo moto notice in view of the SC two-member bench order passed in Civil Appeal No. 82-K of 2015.
The court had passed the order that the vires of Section 25(a) of NAO, 1999, authorizing the NAB chairman to accept the offer by a person of voluntary return of money, illegally earned by him, needs to be examined at the touchstone of the Constitution.
The court observed that the provisions of Section 25(a) are not meant to allow corrupt public servants to get a clean chit from NAB authorities by paying a portion of the embezzled money.
"What is more shocking for us is that no departmental proceedings are initiated against any of such accused who enters into voluntary return.
"This frequent exercise of powers of 'voluntary return' by the NAB chairman has in fact multiplied corruption on the one side and defeated the object of the NAB Ordinance on the other," the order said.