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Probe into sugar scandal: Act binds govt to make public inquiry commission report

By Tariq Butt
April 11, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The federal government is bound under the Pakistan Commissions of Inquiry Act, 2017 to make public the final or interim report of such forum constituted under the chairmanship of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) Director General Wajid Zia within thirty days of its submission.

However, the law says the commission may, in the public interest, recommend to the government that all or any part of its final or interim report may not be made public. Meanwhile, the Auditor General of Pakistan, according to an official notification dated April 9 a copy of which is available with The News, has constituted a seven-member special audit of sugar and wheat crises, as required by the inquiry commission.

The notification said the assignment is to be completed within two weeks starting from April 13 on daily basis. Officers have been taken from all the provinces.

Experts say the inquiry commission’s report will not be legally binding on the government to implement and will not be an FIR against anybody. However, the government may refer its findings to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), FIA, Anti-Corruption Establishment, Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) or any other agency for further probe to institute criminal and other cases against those found guilty in them. Such an organisation will carry out fresh investigations, taking a cue from the commission’s report, to take further action.

The March 16 notification of the interior ministry that established the inquiry commission says that the body has been created "to probe increase in sugar prices", meaning what triggered the phenomenal price spike.

A reading of the Pakistan Commissions of Inquiry Act, enacted by the Nawaz Sharif to probe the Panama papers but could not be applied because the matter was taken up by the Supreme Court, shows that the commission will decide whether its proceedings will be open or in-camera and fix the places and times of its sittings.

In the absence of any announcement from the commission, it is clear that it is holding closed door proceedings. The act says a person will have the right to provide any information or document, relating to a matter before the commission, which may consider it.

However, with fifteen days left to submit its report, the commission has not invited any information and assistance from the general public that could be useful in the inquiry. The law says it applies to all the commissions constituted by the federal government to conduct an inquiry into any definite matter of public importance, which includes a matter of general interest or direct or vital concern to the public.

According to the act, the chairman or any official not below the rank of a grade 18 officer especially authorised in this behalf by the chair may enter any building or place where the forum has reason to believe that any books of account or other documents relating to the subject matter of the inquiry may be found; and may seize them or take extracts or copies from them, subject to any provisions of sections 102 and 103 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) in so far as they may be applicable.

The commission will, for the purposes of this act, have the power to order a police investigation into any matter coming before it. Any proceeding before the commission will be deemed to be judicial within the meaning of sections 193 and 228 of Pakistan Penal Code.

The law says it will be the duty of all executive authorities of the federal and provincial governments to act in aid of the commission in the discharge of its functions and to comply with any of its directions.

No statement made by any person in the course of giving evidence before the commission will, except in accordance with law, subject him to or be used against him in any civil or criminal proceeding except a prosecution for giving false evidence by such statement.

The commission will conduct the inquiry and perform its functions in accordance with the terms of reference specified in the official notification. It has powers of a civil court. However, the federal government can give to it the powers of a criminal court in case the specific nature of the inquiry so requires.

The commission chairman has high court powers of contempt. If a Supreme Court judge heads the commission, he will have contempt powers like those of Supreme Court.