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May 24, 2020

Sugar commission’s findings have no evidentiary value

Top Story

May 24, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The findings of the sugar inquiry commission were mandatorily required to be made public, have recommendatory value and entail no civil or criminal liability for a person deposing before it, under the relevant law.

“The Pakistan Commissions of Inquiry Act, 2017 clearly provides that the report of the commission ‘shall’ be made public by the federal government,” prominent legal expert Barrister Omar Sajjad explained to The News.

He referred to Section 15 of the Act, which says the final or interim report of the commission shall be made public.

However the final report shall be released within thirty days of its submission to the central government. The commission may, in the public interest, recommend to the federal government that all or any part of the final or interim report may not be made public, the provision adds. Elaborating, Omar Sajjad said it was mandatory for the central government to publicly release the commission report. The government has the discretion and power to even ignore the commission’s recommendation not to release the report or any part of it, he said.

He said that another highlight of the law is that the recommendations of the forum do not produce any civil or criminal liability for the statement of a person, who recorded evidence before it.

In this connection, the lawyer mentioned Section 16, which says no statement made by a person in the course of giving evidence before the commission shall, except in accordance with law, subject him to or be used against him, in any civil or criminal proceedings except a prosecution for giving false evidence by such statement. Provided that the statement is made in reply to a question which he is required by the commission to answer; or is relevant to the subject matter of inquiry.

Legal experts term the present report incomplete on the ground that the statements recorded and documentary evidence collected by the commission that is an integral part of its findings has not been made public. Such statements and evidence has to be essentially shared this with the public or persons interested. Now, this material will be made public by the government (in this case the interior ministry that constituted the forum) as the commission stands dissolved after submitting its report to the prime minister.

Experts cite the examples of Panama Joint Investigation Team (JIT) report wherein all evidence was publicly released except Volume 10-A, which was kept classified. But in the instant case, the commission has declared no part of the report classified; hence the material collected and statements recorded are required to be made public. Even in the report of the commission regarding the 2013 general elections inquiry, all statements recorded and material collected was released.

The superior courts have ruled that Section 16 ordains that the “findings of the commission of inquiry have recommendatory value” and have no evidentiary value. Therefore, the inquiry commission’s report may become a basis for any agency to launch its investigation and to subsequently file a case, if any, against the accused, relying on its own independent findings. However, the report itself which may politically benefit or damage the persons alluded to in it, when released, is not formal indictment or an FIR against anybody, experts say.

The only course in the wake of such findings, which the government has announced to adopt, is to refer its different investigations to various organizations like the Federal Board of Revenue, Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Anti-Corruption Establishment, or Federal Investigation Agency for further probe to institute criminal and other cases against those found guilty in them. Such establishments will carry out fresh investigations, taking a cue from the commission’s report, to proceed further.

A reading of the Pakistan Commissions of Inquiry Act 2017 shows that the panel decides whether its proceedings are to be kept open or would be in-camera. In the instant case, the commission preferred to keep the process secret. The act applies to all the commissions constituted by the federal government to conduct inquiry into any definite matter of public importance, which includes a matter of general interest or direct or vital concern to the public.