Draft changes take teeth out of National Accountability Bureau

Amendment ordinance withdraws NAB chairman’s powers of arrests, take taxes, duties out of graft-buster’s purview


Saqib Virk April 29, 2020
Amendment ordinance withdraws NAB chairman’s powers of arrests, take taxes, duties out of graft-buster’s purview. PHOTO : FILE

ISLAMABAD: The government readied the draft of amendments to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) laws, which took away the chairman’s powers to issue arrest warrants of suspect and the matter related to taxes and duties from the graft-buster’s purview.

The draft NAB Amendment Ordinance 2020 will be finalised after consulting the opposition on the amendments. In this regard, Prime Minister Imran Khan had already assigned National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser and federal ministers Asad Umar and Pervez Khattak to talk to the opposition.

According to the draft proposals, the authority of NAB chairman to arrest the accused will be withdrawn and the accountability court will be able to issue arrest warrant for the accused after the reference is filed.

The power to detain the accused for 90 days and to declare a place as a sub-jail will also be abolished. The accountability court will also be able to seek bail bonds from the accused to ensure his attendance. Despite bail bonds, the court can still issue arrest warrants for non-attendance.

The proposals say NAB will not be able to take action on corruption of less than Rs 500 million, while tax and duties issues will not come under its jurisdiction. NAB will also not be able to investigate accounts older than 5 years. In addition, NAB will not take action on matters falling under the purview of regulatory bodies and all the pending inquiries will be forwarded to the relevant regulatory bodies.

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The draft states that NAB will not be able to process an anonymous complaint. It also states that evidence of financial gains would be required for taking any action against public officials. According to the draft, anyone seeking help for expenses would be considered as a dependent.

Furthermore, NAB will not be able to file supplementary reference against any accused; the accused person will be allowed to take lawyer with them during the interrogation, while the trial of elected representatives will be held in the province from where they win the elections.

The new draft allows plea-bargain even after the conviction of the accused, however, in case of voluntary return of the money, the convict would face a 5-year disqualification. The new ordinance will apply to all pending cases.

While NAB officials cannot issue any statement against any accused till the reference is filed. The draft says that a NAB officer, who makes a statement to the media, will be imprisoned for one year with a fine of Rs100,000. Also NAB will not take action over the damage caused by decisions made in good faith.

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According to the draft proposals, NAB prosecutor general (PG) will be appointed for 3-year period. The qualification for the NAB PG will be the same as for a Supreme Court judge. The NAB PG will be appointed in consultation with the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, while a reference to the Supreme Judicial Council will be required to remove the PG from office.

The draft of amendments would be sent to the opposition before its finalisation. The government committee, comprising Asad Qaiser, Asad Umar and Pervez Khattak, will take the opposition into confidence on the amendments.

An interesting situation developed on Tuesday when two top government functionaries expressed contradictory views on the NAB amendment ordinance.

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On Monday, Planning Minister Asad Umar told a private TV channel that the law ministry was working on the ordinance. But the special assistant to Prime Minister on Accountability denied that. “We have not yet started work on the ordinance. We will first consult the opposition and NAB on the draft,” he said.

Sources said that after the draft was leaked before it could consult the opposition, the government was taking the position that the draft was not ready yet. The sources added that an inquiry could be launched into the draft leak.

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