ISLAMABAD: A new shocking law seeking sweeping powers for the country’s court to punish any accused drug barons or persons in their absence was said to have led to a serious debate in the cabinet on Wednesday as Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani was made to form a cabinet committee under his own chairmanship to review this controversial law before making a final decision about its fate.
Top inside sources said cabinet members also angrily reacted after they were asked to give ex-post facto approval to a decision of the Economic Affairs Division (EAD) to sign loan agreement with France under multi-tranche financing facility without referring the summary to the cabinet as required under the law.
The unhappy cabinet members were said to have blasted the top guns of the EAD for taking a faulty decision on their own without referring this important matter to the cabinet as it had sent a very wrong message to them that perhaps this ministry was ready to get a proper opinion on such an important matter before taking a decision.
Earlier, the cabinet committee was formed to review the proposed law to punish thedrug barons in their absence after Prime Minister Gilani was told that if his cabinet allowed passage of this new law, it would be an act of huge injustice with the accused and the PPP government should avoid taking such a wrong decision because it would amount to breach of normal course of justice.
Law Minister Dr Babar Awan was said to have challenged the passage of the new law proposed by the Ministry of Narcotics by listing several reasons. Babar Awan argued as to how dangerous this law was and would deal a huge blow to the normal course of justice.
Giving background of this new development, source said, the Ministry of Narcotics had brought a summary to the cabinet on February 10, seeking its approval on some important decisions. One of the major proposals was to make amendments in Control of Narcotics Force Act 1997.
The cabinet had constituted a committee comprising ministers for law, interior and human rights, adviser to PM on IT and PM’s special adviser on social sector and the attorney general to review the proposed amendments in the narcotics law and come up with considered proposals to make the law more meaningful and responsive to the current challenges.
The cabinet was informed on Wednesday that on the advice of the Cabinet Division, a summary for the prime minister was submitted for approval of the proposed bill by the cabinet. However, when the summary reached Gilani, he instead on reversing the earlier eight months old decision adding the best thing would be to arrange a briefing on the issue.
The prime minister would preside over the cabinet committee meeting which will also comprise law minister, minister for human rights, PM’s adviser on social sector and the attorney general.
Dr Babar Awan who has been nicknamed as “opposition leader” in the cabinet, argued that this proposed law was against the real spirit of justice as it would not fulfil the required norms of justice. He was said to have pointed out that we needed to understand that how perfect a trial would be, but even then in the absence of the accused, it would have no weight in the eyes of law.
He said, 18th Amendment had given constitutional cover to the due course of law and the PPP government should not bring such a law in the parliament. He argued that in the eye of law, every accused was innocent unless proven guilty and the PPP government should not rewrite this centuries old concept. Mr Awan said even in line with Islamic jurisprudence, this law was not fit to be tabled in the Parliament.
The law minister told the cabinet that a fair trial was fundamental right of every accused and he or she should not be deprived of this right by bringing about a change in existing laws to punish him or her in absentia. He said this new proposed law would deal a serious blow to the concept of equality before law as this amendment would be a discrimination.
Earlier, Minister for Economic Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar faced some critical comments when she sought ex-post facto approval for signing of financing framework agreement and loan agreement with French Development Agency (AFD) under multi-tranche financing facility - Pak Energy’s efficiency investment programme.
The ministers were said to have raised hue and cry and wondered as to how this agreement was approved without its approval from the cabinet. PM Gilani was said to have made a comment that unless Law Minister Dr Babar Awan would be satisfied, he would not entertain such things in the cabinet.
PM Gilani was said to have endorsed the objections raised by the law minister. The sources said two ministers wanted the prime minister to allow such kind of agreements with foreign countries without prior approval of the cabinet, as it consumed a lot of time.
But, Babar Awan once again put his foot down and informed the prime minister that by allowing the ministries not to bring such decisions before the cabinet, the cabinet powers were being cut and ministries were being deprived of opinions to help them improve decision-making. The cabinet members opposed this “short cut” which has now become a norm in the government ministries to first sign an agreement and then seek the approval of the cabinet.