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Proposed NAB law to undo Nawaz’s conviction amid talk on 18th Amendment

By Umar Cheema
May 02, 2020

ISLAMABAD: As efforts are afoot to win support for amending the 18th Amendment, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in collaboration with Pakistan People’s Party has prepared a draft of proposed changes in NAB Ordinance and shared it with power brokers which, if incorporated, will undo the conviction of Mian Nawaz Sharif and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz for now.

A Lahore-based businessman who was in NAB custody until recently is a go-between in this process as he is equally close with the power brokers. In a meeting arranged at his place on April 24, a draft was prepared. Shahid Khaqan Abbasi represented PML-N and Farooq H Naek was from the PPP side. (Abbasi said he’s not part of that meeting but was in picture). It has however been learnt that Nawaz Sharif was not for amendments; he insists on scrapping NAB altogether.

Abbasi not only confirmed the preparation of new draft (which is different from the leaked one alreadyin circulation on social media), he said he offered a set of recommendations aimed to reform NAB and they were incorporated in the draft. However, he dispelled the impression that the draft has either been shared with apolitical players or is being used as a bargaining ploy on the 18th Amendment. A PML-N source however said that Shahid has been given the task at his own desire to mend the fences through a common friend as the channel used during amendment in Army Act has now become dysfunctional.

A reading of draft available with The News indicates that it will be beneficial for the entire political class in general and for Mian Nawaz Sharif in particular who has been thrown out of power through the instrument of disqualification. The proposed amendment under question is related to section 15 of the ordinance dealing with disqualification. In sub-section (a), reads the proposed change, the words “forthwith cease to hold public office” shall be omitted and substituted by “cease to hold public office after the appeal process against his conviction has been exhausted.” Presently, disqualification comes into effect with conviction from a trial court whereas the proposed change suggests it be actualised only after the entire appeal process is exhausted.

In addition, the burden of proof has been proposed to be shifted on NAB contrary to the present practice where accused has to prove that the allegations leveled against him/ her are untrue. Likewise, the proposed change requires that an offence should form part of NAB jurisdiction only when public money equivalent to Rs1 billion or above is involved. Remand duration has been proposed to be limited to 14 days instead of making it extendable upto 90 days which is a present practice.

NAB chairman’s power has also significantly been curtailed in the proposed draft. His term has been cut to three years from four years in the proposal. Prosecutor general of NAB is appointed by President of Pakistan in consultation with the chairman. According to the proposed amendment, the president should make this appointment in consultation with the Leader of the House and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly. Chairman’s power to make recruitment should be transferred to Federal Public Service Commission and he should be authorised only to make temporary hiring on contracts and consultants, according to the draft.

The arrest of an accused has been linked with his/ her non-cooperation, draft proposes, and again, chairman’s power to order arrest should be delegated to the court along with prescribed criteria as to when arrests can be ordered by a judge. NAB is required to formally inform an accused about the nature of charges along with a set of questions the investigators want him/ her to answer, according to the proposal. Likewise, entire interrogation shall be video-recorded and the accused is entitled to have an attorney of choice during the course of interrogation, according to the proposed amendment. NAB is required to focus on the charges it leveled instead of opening new fronts and there must be no supplementary challan unlike the present practice, according to the draft.

Public office holders have also been proposed to be redefined as this definition should be limited to those holding executive powers; parliamentary secretaries and lawmakers must not fall in this jurisdiction. Decisions made by cabinet, CEC, CCI, ECNEC or any other statutory policy-making body can’t be called into question by NAB, according to NAB’s proposed amendment. NAB is required to complete in vestigation in a period not exceeding six months. Likewise, NAB can’t recommend keeping somebody on ECL after the accused is granted bail.

While talking to The News, Shahid defended the proposed amendment. “We are not doing it for ourselves; no government can function in the presence of the current NAB regime. Everybody is scared to take action fearing action from NAB,” he said. Asked if these changes have anything to do with the 18th Amendment, he denied this impression. He said they have no objection on discussing the 18th Amendment but it is very difficult to reverse it.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Accountability Barrister Shahzad Akbar has earlier denied reports that the government was considering any draft that had been prepared to bring about changes in the NAB laws.

He told Geo News earlier this week that any changes to the current NAB law will be in conformity with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government drive to weed out the menace of corruption.

Federal Law Minister Farough Naseem also denied existence of any draft with the government but confirmed the government is open to discussing changes in the NAB laws to fix any anomaly with the opposition in coming weeks.