ISLAMABAD: The ordinance promulgated in December last year to limit the sweeping powers of the anti-corruption watchdog and exclude several financial sectors from its purview expired on Sunday as the government is preparing to introduce another one to avoid legal complications.
The National Accountability (Amendment) Ordinance, 2019 was meant to last for four months before landing in parliament to become a permanent law.
Apart from businessmen, the amendments also offered more protection to public officeholders or government officials. The government claimed the ordinance was needed to restore the confidence of public office-holders as well as businessmen as they were complaining that they were being harassed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
After a barrage criticism over the NAB law tweak, the government and the opposition have ironed out their differences. In January this year, the government had agreed to incorporate the opposition’s proposals in the amendments to the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999 and take it on board in the legislation process in the future.
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However, the law could not be passed as both houses of parliament are in recess to ensure social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On Saturday, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser tweeted that a new ordinance would be introduced after consultations with all the stakeholders.
His tweet came after he chaired a meeting attended by Law Minister Farogh Naseem, Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar, Adviser to the PM on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan and Special Assistant to the PM on Accountability Shahzad Akbar to discuss the matter.
Under the ordinance, inquiries and investigations were transferred to the respective authorities or departments which administer the relevant laws of taxation, levies or imposts in question.
Trials shall stand transferred from the relevant accountability courts to the criminal courts which deal with offences under the respective laws pertaining to taxation, levies, or imposts in question.
With regard to procedural lapses in any government project or scheme, action can be taken against any holder of public office unless it is shown that they have materially benefitted by gaining any asset or monetary benefit which is disproportionate to his known sources of income, or where such material benefit cannot be reasonably accounted for, and there is evidence to corroborate the acquiring of such material benefit.
It also prohibits against any holder of public office in any matter pertaining to the rendition of any advice, opinion or report, unless it is shown that the holder of public office has materially benefitted by gaining any asset or monetary benefit which is disproportionate to his known sources of income, or where such material benefit cannot be reasonably accounted for.
The ordinance also stated that the valuation of immovable properties, for the purposes of assessing as to whether a holder of public office has assets disproportionate to his known sources of income, shall be reckoned either according to the applicable rate prescribed by the district collector or the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), whichever is higher.
An act done in good faith and in discharge of duties and performance of official function shall not, unless there is corroborative evidence of accumulation of any monetary benefit or asset which is disproportionate to the know sources of income or which can’t be reasonably accounted for.
The ordinance makes it mandatory for NAB to obtain approval of a scrutiny committee, comprising NAB chairman, cabinet secretary, SECP chairman, FBR chief, and a law ministry representative, before acting against any government official.