ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Law and Justice Dr Farogh Naseem on Sunday issued a stern warning to hoarders saying that those involved in the illegal practice would be dealt with an iron fist and taken to task as the country continues to fight the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
He said that the law ministry had promulgated an ordinance on hoarding on the directives of Prime Minister Imran Khan to curb the shortage of essential items during the Covid-19 outbreak.
"Anyone who is involved in hoarding will face severe punishments. As per our ordinance, it will be a criminal offence to be involved in hoarding. The perpetrator will face three years in jail, summary trials, heavy fines of up to 50%, confiscations and more," the law minister stated while addressing a news conference in Islamabad.
The ordinance prepared to tighten the noose around hoarders involved in hiding stocks of essential commodities to sell them on higher prices is called “Covid-19 (Prevention of Hoarding) Ordinance, 2020”.
It will be enforced in Islamabad Capital Territory.
Thirty-two scheduled items mentioned in the ordinance are tea, sugar, milk, powdered milk, milk and food for infants, edible oil, aerated water, fruit juices and squashes, salt, potatoes, onions, pulses, fish, beef, mutton, eggs, gur, spices and vegetables, red chili, medicinal drugs, kerosene, rice, wheat, flour, chemical fertilisers, poultry feed, surgical gloves, face masks, N-95 masks, sanitisers, surface cleaning products, pesticides, match stick and isopropyl alcohol.
The ordinance says “Any dealer who is found to hoard any scheduled articles shall be guilty of an offence punishable with simple imprisonment up to three (3) years and fine equivalent to 50 per cent of the value of the scheduled articles involved in the case.”
It empowers the special magistrate under Section 8 of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) 1898 to take cognisance of an offence under the ordinance in written information by the office.
“An officer may arrest any person without warrant against whom there is credible information that he has committed an offense under this ordinance,” it states.
The ordinance stipulates that “If an offence under this ordinance committed by a company or body corporate or a partnership or other association or body of persons or individuals, every director, manager, secretary, member or other officer, the principal, primary or beneficial owner or agents thereof shall, unless he proves that the contravention took place without his knowledge or that he exercised all due diligence to prevent such contravention, be deemed to be guilty of such contravention and shall be liable to punishment under this ordinance.”
The ordinance is applicable to individual dealers and corporations both.
The ordinance 2020 also provides rewards for informers in case their information leads to conviction of a hoarder where 10% of the auction proceeds of the hoarded articles will be given to the informer as reward.
Naseem said that preparations for the ordinance on hoarding in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were being made, while law against hoarders in Balochistan was also being formulated.
He also urged the Sindh chief minister to devise a law for the purpose.
The law minister revealed that the government had also prepared an anti-smuggling ordinance to curb the smuggling of essential items.
"As per this (anti-smuggling) ordinance, we will primarily target undeclared routes for smuggling of foreign currencies and essential commodities such as sugar, wheat and medicines," he observed.
"The ordinance has been sent to the prime minister. His office is vetting it at the moment. We will release it by Tuesday, and it will then be codified into law after legislation," he added.
Naseem said that the eventual parliamentary act will contain checks and balances to assist the government in implementation of the law.
"Our district administrations have information about these things. The bill will let us coordinate with district administrations and customs staff around the country to identify these individuals. At the same time, if this work is not done by relevant authorities, the law secretary will summon them by issuing a dereliction report — which will then be forwarded to their departments for further disciplinary action," he noted.
“This system of checks and balances will compel authorities to take their responsibilities seriously,” he added.
He observed though customs would be the focal department to stop this practice, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) would be authorised to dedicate powers to any state institution like the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) to seek their assistance against smuggling.
If the customs department does not take action against the accused, the law secretary would direct the authorities to take action against the official concerned.
The minister said that a summary trial against the culprits would be initiated in accordance with the law and that the judges for the summary trial would be appointed in consultation with the Chief Justice of Pakistan.
Naseem declared the government was trying to convert the NAB amendment ordinance to Act of Parliament.
He remarked it was the policy of the government to extend those ordinances which were near expiry.
He also revealed that bribe was given and taken in customs tribunal.
With input from APP