Wednesday October 04, 2023

Accountability courts to get bail powers: NAB chairman to stay

Fawad Chaudhry said an ordinance was being brought today to do away with legal lacunae with reference to consultation on the new NAB chairman’s appointment, in case the leader of the house or opposition faces NAB case(s).

October 06, 2021

ISLAMABAD: In a high-level meeting, Prime Minister Imran Khan, in consultation with his government’s top legal minds, has decided to issue an ordinance to allow incumbent chairman Javed Iqbal to continue till the appointment of a new NAB chief.

Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry, while replying to a question during a briefing on Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, said an ordinance was being brought on Wednesday (today) to do away with a legal lacunae with reference to consultation on the new NAB chairman’s appointment, in case the leader of the house or opposition faces NAB case(s).

Sources said that the government will not be giving another term to Javed Iqbal through new amendments in NAB Ordinance 1999. It has been decided that in case the government wants to give another four-year term to Javed Iqbal or appoint a new chairman, the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly will be consulted.

Since Prime Minister Imran Khan was reluctant to directly interact with the leader of the opposition Shehbaz Sharif, therefore it has been decided that, going by the words of the NAB law, President Arif Alvi will facilitate the consultation process for the appointment of the new chairman.

The NAB law says that “there shall be a Chairman NAB to be appointed by the president in consultation with the [Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly] for a [non-extendable] period of [four] years on such terms and conditions as may be determined by the president and shall not be removed except on the grounds of removal of judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.”

This means that unlike what ministers say in public, the leader of the opposition will be consulted in the appointment of a new chairman or for a second-term appointment of the incumbent NAB chief. In case the prime minister and the leader of the opposition do not agree on any name, the case will be referred to a parliamentary committee which will have equal representation of members from the treasury and opposition benches.

The ordinance will also clear the vagueness surrounding the forum that will have the power to remove the NAB chairman. It has been decided that the Supreme Judicial Council will be the forum that will consider any case or reference about the misconduct of the NAB chairman.

In last week's meeting, it was discussed to curtail the chairman’s unfettered power to arrest any accused. However, in the final meeting held on the subject on Tuesday, the government decided not to touch this power of the NAB chairman but instead empower the accountability court to release the accused on bail where the court is satisfied.

It is said that the accountability court’s power to entertain bail applications is being added following the decisions of the Supreme Court. It has also been decided that retired judges of the high courts and ex-session judges could also be appointed as accountability judges, and they would be offered terms and conditions equal to that of a high court judge.

The ordinance will also address the concerns about NAB of the civil bureaucracy, public office holders and businessmen but this legislation is not likely to be offering a solution to their satisfaction. The sources, however, said that decisions of collective bodies like the cabinet, ECC, ECNEC, SBP, etc would not be questioned by NAB.

Regarding bank cases, NAB will not proceed against any bank without consulting the State Bank of Pakistan. Certain changes are also being made in the NAB law to re-adjust the role of the prosecutor general. However, this office is not being made independent as was discussed earlier.

The government is hesitant to make many changes in the NAB law through the ordinance and wants parliament to finally decide and make key changes when the ordinance will be laid before it for enactment.

Under the new amendments, federal and provincial tax/levy matters will no longer be within the purview of the NAB to provide relief and confidence to the business community. All tax and levy related inquiries and investigative powers will be transferred to the relevant authorities and ministries.

Amendments are being made to protect the bureaucracy in decision-making so that the NAB will not prosecute decisions made in good faith on the basis of procedural error and breach of code (good faith) other than financial gain.

The ordinance does not set a timeline for consultation between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition and subsequently for the parliamentary committee to decide on the appointment of a new chairman, but to maintain institutional continuity there will be legal permission.

Attorney General of Pakistan Khalid Javed Khan said another new amendment is being brought in the ordinance, which will allow the accountability court to use modern technology to record evidence and the court will be able to record video of a witness.

The Attorney General said three or four names would be sent by the prime minister to the leader of the opposition for the NAB chairman’s post and Javed Iqbal’s name could also be included in that list.

If there is no agreement, the matter will be referred to a 12-member parliamentary committee, which will have six members each from the government and opposition. Senate will also be represented in the committee.