ISLAMABAD: The Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice has endorsed the controversial Pakistan Commissions of Inquiry Bill, 2016. If passed by the upper house, the bill would bring powers of fact-finding bodies at a par with civil and criminal courts.
The inquiry commissions will also have the authority to constitute international teams and seek international cooperation from foreign countries or agencies to acquire both information and documents.
The bill has already been passed by the National Assembly despite the opposition’s protest against the backdrop of the controversy over the Panamagate scandal on November 29, 2016 when it walked out from the house thrice.
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The opposition initially protested against the bill, terming it ‘toothless’ but later incorporated suggestions from opposition groups, including the Pakistan Peoples Party.
Senator Muhammad Javed Abbasi on Thursday chaired the meeting which also included Law and Justice Minister Zahid Hamid and Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Law and Justice Zafarullah Khan.
The members unanimously passed the bill while the house deferred discussion on another agenda item ‘The National Accountability (Amendment) Bill, 2017’ as another parliamentary committee was looking into overhauling the law. The report on the bill will now be presented in the Senate to get its approval to refer it to the parliamentary committee.
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Under the proposed law, the federal government will have the power to constitute a commission, which will conduct the inquiry and perform its functions in accordance with the terms of reference (ToR) specified in the notification.
“The federal government shall specify the time period within which such inquiry shall be concluded, provided that the federal government may, on the request of the chairman of the commission, extend the time specified,” reads the draft of the bill.
The proposed commission, under the new law, will have the powers of a civil, criminal court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908. It can also order police investigation, punishment and contempt etc.
“The chairman or any officer, not below the rank of an officer of BS-18, especially authorised in this behalf by the chairman may enter any building or place where the commission has reason to believe that any books of account or other documents relating to the subject matter”.
The enhanced authority of the commissions will include powers to constitute international teams and seek international cooperation from foreign countries or agencies to get information, documents and evidence.
Besides it will have powers to issue letters of request to foreign judicial authorities to record evidence.
Similarly, the report of the commission will be made public within 30 days of its submission. However, some parts of the final report may be held from public after consensus between the government and the commission.
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Senator Muzafar Hussain Shah asked the advisor to premier what would be done if the federal government stopped releasing the reports like Hamoodur Rahman and Abbottabad Commission reports.
To this Khan replied that under the new law, only the commission will have the authority to not release certain details of the report.
Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani had referred the bill to the law and justice committee headed by Javed Abbasi of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz after its introduction by the government in the house last month.
The government was forced to draft a new law after the then chief justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali wrote back to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif refusing to constitute an inquiry commission to hold investigations into the Panama leaks scam under the 1956 law terming it toothless.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 17th, 2017.
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