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January 17, 2020

Amending NAB

Editorial

 
January 17, 2020

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has given the government 90 days to fix the law governing the National Accountability Bureau (NAB)’s plea bargaining to retrieve money from the corrupt. Here the contentious issue is related to Clause 25-A that allows such plea bargains. The Supreme Court has barred the use of the clause until some new legislation is enacted. Though the government had already imposed curbs on NAB in this regard, the Supreme Court’s observations carry substantial weight. Especially, the comments made about the possibility of repealing laws that may render the entire NAB dysfunctional, unlawful, and toothless. The three-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed made these observations on January 15 in a suo-motu hearing of the case initiated about plea bargaining by NAB. Now, the government has three months to formulate new laws.

It is noteworthy that an amendment bill has already been presented in the Senate to alter the NAB laws, and the attorney general of Pakistan has submitted to the court that the PTI government was already negotiating the bill with the opposition parties and in all likelihood the bill will soon be passed. Last year on December 27, Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced that with a new NAB Ordinance, the business community would be spared the ordeal of NAB proceeding against them. That amendment ordinance had stipulated that NAB would not continue to act as a parallel mechanism to investigate into tax matters. Now the court has observed that even if a single clause of the NAB laws is declared unconstitutional, the entire legal framework of NAB would crumble.

Earlier the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) had also declared some NAB Ordinance clauses as un-Islamic. Though the CII looked at NAB laws and practices in a purely religious perspective, even viewed from a human-rights angle the way NAB has been operating has raised serious questions. The CII had particularly discussed the concept of plea bargain, and has objected to hand-cuffing and encouraging some accused persons to turn approvers. Similarly, the undue negative publicity on media of the accused even before the collection and production of solid proofs, has also been highlighted as un-Islamic by the CII. All these observations are pertinent and should be taken seriously as they violate generally accepted norms of behaviour in any accountability process. Though NAB has been insisting that it has been impartial in its arrests of the accused and in its investigations, there have been cases in which this claimed impartiality has been put under question. Moreover, the humiliating treatment NAB metes out to its detainees is far below the required standards of judicial proceedings. Now is the time to heed the advice of the SC and the CII to amend the NAB law in the stipulated time of three months.