Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan on Sunday defended the government’s decision to make changes in the country’s accountability law through a presidential ordinance.
The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government had made drastic changes in the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999 through a presidential ordinance promulgated on Friday. Under the ordinance, the powers of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) were curtailed keeping in view frequent complaints of the bureaucracy and the business community.
However, in view of growing criticism against what many critics described as a “mother of all NROs” to businessmen, bureaucrats and politicians, majority of the amendments circulated to the cabinet by the law ministry were taken back on Saturday.
Two major opposition parties — the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan Peoples Party — had rejected the ordinance, alleging that the government is making efforts to protect a few of its cronies and “dry-clean” the PTI.
Taking to Twitter, the PM’s aide lashed out at opposition parties for making the issue about politics. “Imran Khan is not afraid of accountability. Even his political opponents have and always will be unable to prove charges of corruption against him,” she said.
She added that the prime minister’s fight against corruption was still ongoing. “NAB is meant to investigate mega corruption scandals. Now, the bureau will be able to better focus on executing this role.
“Inquiries will be initiated against those government employees who have benefitted from procedural discrepancies or departmental errors. Public office holders who misused their powers [for their personal benefit] by having an unprecedented increase in their assets are not exempt.”
She added that honest, hardworking government employees have nothing to fear.
“Under the ordinance, honest public office holders will be able to make decisions in the greater public interest without any fear. This will make governance more active, the economy more stable and will give way to a more conducive environment for business.”
Meanwhile, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Sunday called on the government to put an end to its “clearly biased efforts” and invited it to “work with opposition”.
“Latest NAB ordinance is proof even government agrees with President Zardari. NAB and our economy can’t run together,” he said in a post on Twitter.
He urged the government to “do its job and legislate”. “Strengthen anti-corruption laws and end this farce,” said the PPP chairman.
‘Revised Updated NAB Ordinance’
The law ministry on Saturday officially released the text of the controversial ordinance with the subject “Revised Updated NAB Ordinance”, which does not contain a number of clauses which were widely reported by the media on Friday.
The text messages sent to the media persons by the official spokesperson for the law ministry said: “This is the one approved by the president. It will be notified later.
“The moment, (the) President signed the Ordinance it was promulgated. Now it is being published in the Gazette. The printing is going to be the official notification. Ordinance will most probably be notified on Monday or Tuesday in the official Gazette,” said the spokesperson in another text message, without mentioning as to when the president has approved it.
The ordinance issued to the media on Saturday did not put any restriction on NAB as reported on Friday from taking up cases involving corruption or corrupt practices below an amount of Rs500 million as well as from issuing public statements at the stage of inquiry/investigation of a complaint.
The new law neither specify any time period for completion of an inquiry nor bar NAB from reopening any inquiry/investigation.
The procedure to appoint prosecutor general accountability, the 90-day period of physical remand and shifting of burden of proof that rests on accused were not even touched in the new ordinance.
There is no mention of a six-member “scrutiny committee”, suggested in the earlier version, whose permission was necessary for NAB before conducting any inquiry, investigation or arresting a government servant.
The new ordinance did not require the NAB chairman to devise a “complaint redressal mechanism for attending complaints against NAB” and to file a quarterly report on its performance to the federal government.
An amendment made through the ordinance in Section 9 (a)(vi) of the National Accountability Ordinance of 1999 says, “Nothing shall be construed as misuse of authority by a holder of public office unless there is corroborative evidence of accumulation of any monetary benefit or asset which is disproportionate to his known sources of income or which cannot be reasonably accounted for.”
A new clause in the same section reads: “An act done in good faith and in discharge of duties and performance of official function shall not, unless there is corroborative evidence of accumulation of any monetary benefit or asset which is disproportionate to the known sources of income or which cannot be reasonably accounted for, constitute an offence under this clause.”
Another amendment reads: “Notwithstanding anything contained in this Ordinance or any other law for the time being in force, the valuation of immovable properties, for the purposes of assessing as to whether a holder of public office has assets disproportionate to his known sources of income, shall be reckoned either according to the applicable rate prescribed by the district collector or the Federal Board of Revenue, whichever is higher. No evidence contrary to the latter shall be admissible.”