Accountability bill won’t net armed forces, despite PML-N’s demand

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The government has decided to exclude the members of the armed forces from the purview of a proposed accountability mechanism despite the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)’s demand that they be included, as it believes that special anti-corruption laws of all the armed forces cover the corrupt practices of any member of the military.
According to a source in the Law Ministry, the government had sought the opinion of the ministry on the dissenting notes submitted by PML-N legislators pertaining to a number of clauses of the National Accountability Commission Bill of 2010. One of the reservations of the PML-N members was with the bill not being applicable to bureaucrats, office-holders of local bodies and members of the armed forces.
The Law Ministry opined that Clause M of Section 2 of the bill talks about “Holder of Public Office” which means persons in service of Pakistan, all persons in a local council and all persons in an autonomous or semi-autonomous body, society, corporation, firm, bank or any other body administered by the federal or provincial government.
The Holders of Public Office (Accountability) Bill of 2009 was introduced in the National Assembly two years ago and was deliberated upon in the Standing Committee on Law and renamed the Accountability Commission Bill of 2010. Since then, the bill has been mired in controversy because of the difference of opinion between Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and PML-N parliamentarians.
After a prolonged deadlock between the PPP and the PML-N over the proposed National Accountability Commission Bill of 2010, the government seems to have decided to present the bill in the National Assembly without addressing the opposition members’ concerns. The National Assembly Standing Committee on Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs is likely to approve the pending draft bill in its two-day meeting scheduled for October 26-27, sources in parliament told Pakistan Today.
After that the bill would be sent to parliament for approval. The other points where the two parties differed included the appointment of chairman and deputy chairman of the National Accountability Commission, duration of cases to be taken up by the commission and immunity proposed for the crimes if committed in “good faith”.
The PML-N stressed that a serving Supreme Court judge should be made chairman of the proposed commission and the deputy chairman should be a serving high court judge. The government, however, is of the view that any person qualified to be appointed a superior court judge should be eligible to hold either of the two offices.
Another dissenting note from PML-N members objects to the abridged definition of “mutual assistance” and international cooperation in dealing with corruption. It demands that the clause as it existed in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) law should be retained in the new bill. The third objection relates to applying the law from 1947, not from 1985, as proposed by the government.
According to the source, the Law Ministry, in response to the PML-N’s note pertaining to non-retrospective applicability of the bill, opined that it was amply covered under Section 47. On the PML-N’s reservations regarding the ‘narrow’ definition of corruption and corrupt practices, the ministry stated that instead of defining the expression “corruption and corrupt practices” in the definition clause of the bill, it was explained in a separate section (17) and inter-alia included a person whose assets were disproportionate to his or her sources of income.
Regarding the limitation period in favour of corrupt persons which says that a corrupt person cannot be presented after three years of the expiry of his or her time in public office, the ministry stated that this limitation period in favour of the corrupt person should not be left open-ended in order to prevent political victimisation in future, but should be limited to three years to five years in order to be consistent with Article 63 of the constitution where the limitation period is five years. Both periods are consistent with the constitution but leaving the period open-ended would be inconsistent.
Regarding another PML-N objection regarding period of imprisonment, which was reduced from 14 years to seven years, the Law Ministry said Clause 1 of Section 18 of the bill addressed the reservation where the maximum period of imprisonment was specified as 14 years and a proviso had been added to reduce the period to seven years in case the illegal gain derived by the convict was fully recovered him. Under the circumstances, if a consensus is not reached between the PPP and PML-N over the proposed piece of legislation which would replace NAB with the National Accountability Commission, the government may face tough resistance from the opposition in passing the bill in parliament.

3 COMMENTS

  1. It is now for the Chief of General Staff alongwith all service chiefs to address this. It is not their willingness which is under question. The law tends to be used, at times, to settle scores in some quarters in Pakistan which can lead to the reluctance to be part of this process. This will need to be addresses by the government.

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