Parliamentary panel to take up amendments to ECL law

October 30, 2020

ISLAMABAD: A parliamentary panel will on November 3 take up for consideration key amendments to the Exit Control List law which were passed by the Senate some time ago.The National Assembly...

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ISLAMABAD: A parliamentary panel will on November 3 take up for consideration key amendments to the Exit Control List (ECL) law which were passed by the Senate some time ago.

The National Assembly Committee on Law and Justice will deliberate over the bill amid intense controversy over the placement of names of prominent opposition leaders on the ECL by the government, often on the recommendation of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

In the upper house of parliament, the bill had been sponsored by former Senate Chairman and noted Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Raza Rabbani. In the National Assembly, it has been tabled by former Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf.

One proposed amendment compels the federal government to specify the grounds for inclusion of a person’s name in the ECL and communicate the same within 24 hours to the person barred from travelling abroad. In case of an appeal, the government would be required to decide within 15 days and the order would lapse if it was not done within the specified time period.

The bill seeks the deletion of Section 2(3), which states that if, while prohibiting a person from foreign travel, it appears to the federal government that it will not be in the public interest to specify the grounds on which such an order is proposed to be made, it shall not be necessary for it to specify such grounds.

The statement of objects and reasons of the bill states that the provisions of the Exit from Pakistan (Control) Ordinance, 1981, are in conflict with the fundamental rights conferred by the Constitution. The proposed amendments bring in harmony its provisions with the Constitution and are based on the observations of the superior courts in several cases.

Senator Rehman Malik had proposed that the term the ‘competent authority’ should be substituted with ‘the federal secretary of the interior ministry’ for all purposes, including placing or removing a person’s name from the ECL. He stated that it was the fundamental right of the accused to be informed — at least 24 hours in advance — before their names are placed on the ECL. A few years ago, nearly 10,000 names which had been unnecessarily placed on the ECL were struck off from the list.

The present government has already dispensed with the authority of the minister of state for interior to include and remove from the ECL names of terrorists, activists of banned organisations, and those accused of other crimes.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has transferred these powers to the federal cabinet, which grants approval to the recommendations or rejects them. He has also abolished the cabinet sub-committee on the ECL, which used to review the requests to include or remove names from the list.

The previous government, in light of Supreme Court orders, had withdrawn the powers from the interior ministry. The interior minister, however, was allowed to place the names of terrorists, members of proscribed organisations and those requested by the security organisations, on the ECL.

During the tenure as interior minister of Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the process of placing names on the list was not only simplified but was also de-politicised to a great extent.

However, during the period of his successor, Ahsan Iqbal, a new procedure was adopted in which the cabinet committee used to decide these cases. The minister was of the view that matters related to the ECL, as per the decisions of the Supreme Court, should be taken up by the federal cabinet.

Leading opposition politicians whose names have been included in the ECL have traditionally challenged the decision in the superior courts.

The most recent high-profile political figure to do so was former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whose name was removed from the ECL by the government to allow his travel abroad for medical treatment. Recently, the Supreme Court rejected the plea to put Shahbaz Sharif’s name on the ECL.

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