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Pakistan

Geo News
January 15, 2020

Amend NAB laws in three months, SC tells PTI government

Pakistan

Geo News
Wed, Jan 15, 2020
The News/Files

ISLAMABAD: The National Accountability Bureau's (NAB) laws should be amended within the next three months, the Supreme Court told the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government  on Wednesday, adding  that it would step in and adjudicate as per law and merit should the order not be heeded.

The apex court further ordered the anti-graft watchdog to stop exercising its right to offer plea bargains until and unless the Parliament legislated on the matter.

The directives came during a hearing of a suo motu case pertaining to the NAB Ordinance's Clause 25-A, which empowers the watchdog's chief to accept voluntary return of assets from an accused. Such a move helps the accused avoid any probe into the alleged wrongdoing.

Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed, in his remarks during today's hearing, noted that "amending the NAB laws is the prerogative of the parliament and that the "the government should not prolong the legislation on this matter".

The CJP further mentioned that the court had already asked the NAB to stop offering plea bargains until the parliament legislated on the issue. "Until the parliament legislates on the matter, the powers granted under Clause 25-A cannot be exercised," he said.

Justice Ahmed also warned that if the court stepped in and repealed the laws of the accountability body, it could render the NAB powerless. He said: "Does the government want that the NAB laws be repealed?

"The government has clipped the wings of NAB with the new amendments," he added, referring to the NAB Ordinance, 2019, under which a host of restrictions were placed on the bureau.

Clause 25-A and the NAB Ordinance, 2019

Clause 25-A of the NAB ordinance pertains to voluntary return and plea bargain. It states: "Not withstanding, anything contained in section 15 or in any other law for the time being in force, where a holder of public office or any other person, prior to the authorisation of investigation against him, voluntarily comes forward and offers to return the assets or gains acquired or made by him in the course, or as the consequence, of any offence under this Ordinance, the Chairman NAB may accept such offer and after determination of the amount due from such person and its deposit with the NAB discharge such person from all his liability in respect of the matter or transaction in issue: Provided that the matter is not sub judice in any court of law," the clause states.

Last month, the federal cabinet had ratified the NAB Ordinance, 2019. Under the new law, NAB would no longer be allowed to take action against government employees.

The ordinance also underlined that the government employees' properties could not be frozen without a court order. If the accountability watchdog could not complete an investigation against a suspect within three months, the accused would be entitled to bail.

In addition, the NAB would now only be able to proceed in corruption cases of Rs500 million and upwards. According to the amendment ordinance, the NAB's jurisdiction over matters relating to tax, stock exchange, and initial public offerings (IPOs) had been curtailed as well.

However, a day later, the government rescinded a majority of the amendments circulated to the cabinet by the law ministry after major opposition parties rejected the ordinance.