The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa PTI-led government took a lead from the other provinces for enacting a law and provided wide-range powers to Ehtesab Commission for elimination of corruption and corrupt practices from the public sector in the province.
The PTI-led provincial government under the Ehtesab Commission Act would constitute an independent and autonomous accountability body at the provincial level as it was not satisfied with the performance of the existing government institutions, especially the Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) department established for elimination of corruption within the government institutions. The ACE was not independent and was under the provincial government as the ACE had to get permission from the provincial chief secretary for taking action against the officials of grade-18 and above.
The Ehtesab Commission would act independently and even would directly take action against the chief minister of the province and the ministers if found involved in corruption.
On January 7, the provincial assembly unanimously passed the much-propagated Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Ehtesab Commission Bill, 2013, which provides for the establishment of a five-member Ehtesab Commission and appointment of a director general for preventing corrupt practices and to hold accountable all public officeholders for these practices.
Under the Act, within 30 days of the enforcement of the act, the government will take necessary steps to set up as many as Ehtesab courts as may be necessary to ensure expeditious trial of offences under this act with territorial areas as specified by the Peshawar High Court and dispensation of justice within prescribed time as specified by the National Judicial Policy.
"Each court will consist of a judge, being a person who is district and sessions judge or a senior additional district and sessions judge. The government after consultation with the Peshawar High Court will appoint a judge of each court. The court will not grant any party more than one adjournment during the pendency of a matter from the filing of reference till its disposal," said the act. The court would be bound to dispose of the case within three months and the accused persons have the right to a file appeal against the decision in the Peshawar High Court.
Senior Minister Sirajul Haq, on behalf of the chief minister, tabled the bill, which was recommended by the House’s Select Committee. Establishment of an independent and autonomous Ehtesab Commission in the province was part of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s election manifesto.
The Select Committee accommodated several amendments moved by the members of the treasury and opposition members. The unique amendment through the committee in the act was an accused person, if honourably acquitted by the final court of appeal, may file for financial compensation.
The provision has been added to Sub-Clause II of Section 44 of the Accountability Commission Act which was passed by the provincial assembly. "Provided that person is honourably acquitted by the final court of appeal, he may be compensated in accordance with Section 35-A of the Civil Procedure Code (CPC)," it states. The Ehtesab Commission will comprise five commissioners to be nominated by the search and scrutiny committee and will be sent to legislative committee on governance and accountability for confirmation.
The commissioners will hold office for one non-extendable term of four years. The speaker in consultation with treasury and opposition in the provincial assembly will set up the legislative committee within one month after the commencement of the act. The speaker will chair the legislative committee comprising five members of the House and will evaluate eligible candidates.
The Ehtesab Commission has the powers to appoint director general (DG), prosecutor general, and director internal monitoring and public complaints wing for the smooth functioning of the commission and effective discharge of the statutory obligations.
The commission will approve annual budget and regulation required to be made under this act. There will be directorate general of the commission that will comprise information and data processing wing, investigative wing, prosecution, finance and audit, internal and monitoring and human resource wings.
The director general will lead the directorate who will be appointed for a period of non-extendable four years.
The DG will cease to hold office if he has been convicted of an offence involving moral turpitude. A person who is a retired government officer in Grade 21/22 or equivalent or is a lawyer eligible to be appointed as a judge of the high court and has served in a leadership position in professional career will be appointed the DG.
The DG can call any person for the purpose of determining whether there has been any contravention of the provisions of this act or any rule or order made there under.
About financial autonomy of the commission, the bill said the remuneration payable to the commissioners, director general, directors, other employees, staff and administrative expenses of the commission will be an expenditure charged upon the provincial consolidate fund. The DG will be the principal accounting officer of the commission. The Auditor General of Pakistan will audit accounts of the commission.
There will be prosecutor general to be appointed for a period of four years. He will give advices to the commissioners and director general upon such legal matters. He will head the prosecution wing and will be responsible for overseeing the performance of special prosecutors who have been appointed to conduct prosecutions of cases and advocates that have been appointed to institute or define cases, appeals, petitions, applications and all other matters before any court or tribunal.
"The Ehtesab Commission will be fully autonomous and there will be no role of executive in hiring and firing. The proposed body can even order the arrest of the chief minister and ministers," the provincial information minister Shah Farman told TNS. He said there would be Special Ehtesab Courts to conduct hearing into cases on day-to-day basis and that proceeding in any case could be adjourned for seven days only.
The minister said that there would be ‘one-line’ budget to ensure the autonomy of the commission, which would be free from any political interference. He said initially, a 10-member legislative committee having equal representation from the treasury and opposition benches would select seven members of the search and scrutiny committee, who would nominate five Ehtesab Commissioners. The minister said the legislative committee could reject a nominated Ehtesab Commissioner proposed by the search committee with by 3/4th majority vote.
He said strict timelines had been prescribed to ensure that appointment process and functioning of the Ehtesab Commission was not sabotaged due to delays and secretary provincial assembly would serve as secretary to the legislative committee. He said that members of the search and scrutiny committee would hold domiciles of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while every member would declare his assets as per law.
He said the search and scrutiny committee would nominate one of the Ehtesab Commissioners as Chief Ehtesab Commissioner to the Legislative Committee on Governance and Accountability.
"As for the education qualification, an Ehtesab Commissioner should be a bachelor’s degree holder; the minimum age is at least 45 years old and at most 65 years old during the year of selection, and he should be competent, honest and of good repute," he said.
Unlike the National Accountability Ordinance 1999, the new law envisages that there would be no plea bargain with an accused person by the Ehtesab Commission. Only the trial judge would be allowed to consider that full recovery of the assets accumulated through illegal means along with interest has been effected due to cooperation of the convict and consequently leniency may be shown in awarding imprisonment. The offence of corrupt practices will be punishable up to 14 years with fine up to one million rupees and confiscation of property.