Proposed conflict of interest law to rein in public office holders
Delay raise questions about PTI’s interest in getting it passed by KP Assembly
PESHAWAR: The governor, the chief minister, ministers, lawmakers and government employees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will not run a business, practice a profession or engage in partnership, says a proposed law.
The proposed legislation aimed at preventing conflict of interest has been awaiting passage for 10 months. The delay has raised questions about the Pakistan Tehreek--e-Insaf (PTI) government’s interest in getting this much-hyped law passed at a time when the KP Assembly is churning out one act after another. After initial delays, it is now stuck in the Select Committee for months. Imran Khan has several times claimed incorrectly that the law has been passed.
Imran Khan probably had not expected such a long delay in its passage, though the bill has some serious flaws and needs review. This is a special legislation that could improve governance in the province.
The proposed law puts strict restrictions on public office holders to prevent them from exploiting official positions for furthering their businesses or private interests or those of their family members and friends. It also lays out rules for public office holders in the two-year duration after their retirement.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Prevention of Conflict of Interest Act 2014 identifies activities that fall within the conflict of interest and suggests measures that could prevent it.
It requires the public office holders to file a statement of assets within two months of their appointment. This report should also provide the details of one year income before the appointment and the expected income he or she is entitled to receive in the first year of appointment.
The 24-page law requires them to include information about the assets, liabilities and other activities of the spouse and dependent children.
According to the bill, the governor, the chief minister, lawmakers and all employees under the provincial government including corporations, banks, financial institutions, firms or organisations established, controlled or administered by the provincial government are the public officer holders. Local council nazims are also public office holders.
The bill makes annual asset report for public office holders an obligation. Any official found violating the law could face a fine up to Rs100,000 in addition to disciplinary or penal action or both. However, one year time for commencing proceedings on violation of the law makes it impotent.
Any contract or agreement concluded in conflict of interest would be rescinded ‘within five years of signing,’ except the one that benefits the government.
The law defines conflict of interest as “when he (official) exercises an official power, duty or function or uses non-public information in a manner that provides an opportunity to further his private interest or those of his relatives or friends or to improperly further another person’s private interests.”
The act stops a public office holder from taking, participating or influencing a decision, giving preferential treatment, using insider information, accepting gifts and travel offers, holding interest in a sole proprietorship, partnership, private company and entering contract or employment relationship with a member of his/her family to prevent the public office holder from furthering his/her private interest or those of relatives and friends.
A provincial minister cannot debate or vote on a question that places him/her in conflict of interest. The opposition Qaumi Watan Party’s Sikandar Sherpao wants it deleted, arguing it curtails lawmakers’ powers.
The public office holder cannot engage in lobbying for furthering private interests or those of relatives and friends.
Section 17 of the bill prohibits public office holder to engage in employment or the practice of a profession, manage or operate directly or indirectly a business or commercial activity, continue as or become a director or officer in a corporation or an organisation, hold office in a union or professional association, serve as a paid consultant or be a partner in a partnership.
Prohibited activities are listed in the proposed law but exceptions in the following sections and clauses make them ineffective.
The bill provides for the establishment of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Prevention of Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commission.
The commission will have a chairman, a person eligible to become a judge of the Supreme Court or Peshawar High Court, and two members. The commission shall make decision by simple majority.
The government has the authority to appoint or remove the chairman or the members. The bill, good in intention, has this and several other flaws. A question that arises is how a commission that could be hired and fired by the government would hold it accountable. The law enables the chief minister to exercise considerable influence over the commission.
Sikandar Sherpao, who suggested 12 amendments, wants the appointment of chairman and members through a selection committee.
An MPA or any citizen can approach the commission against a public office holder or a former official who engages in conflict of interest. The commission has suo moto power and its decisions are also final.
The commission can fine the violators up to Rs100,000. The declaration by the commission that a public office holder has committed conflict of interest would be sent to the relevant authority for initiation of “necessary disciplinary or penal action or both.”
The section 61 of the 65-section bill says that if an office holder is declared to have committed conflict of interest or an administrative monetary penalty is imposed on a public office holder, the commission shall make public the nature of the violation, the name of the public office holder who committed it and the amount of the penalty imposed.