Details of new National Accountability Bureau law emerge
By: Tariq Butt
ISLAMABAD: The draft of the new accountability law that an official team has handed over to a PML-N delegation provides that no corruption case will be instituted against any member of a government or bureaucrat after seven years of leaving office.
Another key provision of the proposed law says it would be applicable on the day it would be enacted, but the corruption cases that are in different stages in courts will proceed unaffected.
The draft further says that the new accountability commission to be formed under it will be barred from investigating foreign assets, made through ill-gotten wealth, by corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.
Another clause says the sentence for those convicted for corruption under the fresh legislation would be seven years instead of 14 years. The government will not appoint the accountability commissioner but a parliamentary committee in which the ruling coalition will be in majority and will nominate him. But the PML-N says the government and opposition should have equal representation in the parliamentary body.
Yet another provision says that anything done wrong or any corruption committed in “good faith” would not be an offence but would be considered a mistake, which would not be punishable.
The government team, led by Federal Minister Syed Khurshid Shah, delivered the draft to the PML-N delegation, headed by Senator Ishaq Dar, in a high-profile meeting last week with the expectation that the opposition would give a green signal to get it passed from parliament unanimously.
“We have very strong reservations to the proposed law,” PML-N spokesman Senator Pervez Rashid told The News when contacted. “No high-level meeting of the party is yet planned to mull over the draft and there is no hurry.”
The prime purpose of the “informal” talks with the government was to give an opportunity to Law Minister Farooq H Naek, who wanted to explain salient features of the accountability bill.There has been no follow-up of the last week’s deliberations as the PML-N has attached no importance to the government’s move that it considers too little, too late.
A PML-N leader said that the party would formally reject the bill in the next few days, an eventuality about which leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan talked about hours after it was given to the Ishaq Dar team.
He said the informal talks were held for the sake of talks and there was no other objective except that the PML-N did not want to suffer the blame that it was opposed to the dialogue process.
According to him, the PML-N has no doubt that the government is unnecessarily focusing on bringing a toothless accountability law knowing that the opposition would not be a part of it unless its demands are taken care of.
The PML-N wants to make the new law effective from 1947. It presses that ill-gotten foreign assets should be in the purview of the accountability commission to probe.The government has planned to move the Holder of Public Office (Accountability) Bill in the current session of the National Assembly, but the PML-N is not pushed at all.
The new law, which will replace Pervez Musharraf enacted National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999, is lying with the National Assembly’s committee on law and justice for the past four years for want of consensus between the government and opposition.
The ruling coalition members of the House committee accuse the PML-N of creating hurdles in its unanimous approval. They say had the government wanted to approve the bill of its choice, it would have conveniently done so for having a clear majority in both the Houses. They say other parliamentary parties too have representation in the House committee where their opinion has to be given due weight. It is not possible to accept each and every recommendation of the PML-N because it is just one party, they argue.
The PML-N members of the House committee gave four dissenting notes to the present bill, which are lying unattended in the committee. One note stressed that a serving Supreme Court judge should be made chairman of the proposed commission. The government emphasized that a person qualified to be appointed as a superior court judge should be eligible for this office.
The second note called for omission of a provision that no proceeding shall lie against a public office holder for anything which has been done in good faith or in pursuance of or in exercise of powers vested in him or believed to be vested in him, or intended to be done at the material time by virtue of that position. This clause provides a loophole to an accused to plead that his impugned actions were taken “in good faith” or “in due exercise of powers vested in him,” or “believed to be vested” in him.
Another note objected to the abridged definition of foreign mutual assistance and international cooperation in dealing with corruption. It demanded that the clause as existing in the NAO should be retained in the new bill. The fourth objection related to the date of application of the law.