President Mamnoon Hussain on Saturday night passed an ordinance to disbar for life public office holders and government servants who seek to benefit from the National Accountability Bureau's (NAB) plea bargain and voluntary return laws.
The ordinance will be enforced from tomorrow (Sunday), and presented to the Senate and parliament for their review on Monday.
"The Supreme Court had asked the government for its stance on the plea bargain law," Finance Minister Ishaq Dar earlier in the day said while speaking during the government's press conference to announce the ordinance.
"We had to draw the line somewhere."
"We were being criticised for not disqualifying public office holders and government servants from office if they opted for plea bargain," Law Minister Zahid Hamid added.
Explaining the new law, Hamid said, "Voluntary return and plea bargain provisions have now both been merged."
"In both cases, an individual who wants to return the amounts embezzled will require court approval and will be deemed to be convicted; if he is a holder of public office, he will be dismissed and disqualified from holding that public office for life, " Hamid explained, adding that the same would apply to government servants.
To a question whether this change in law can be applied to past cases, Ishaq Dar said: "The law cannot apply to past cases. It is applicable either effective immediately or on future cases."
The finance minister noted that there had been considerable criticism from civil society, the political opposition and judiciary on Section 25-A of the NAB Ordinance, which allowed corrupt individuals to return to their posts after making a plea bargain with NAB.
The government in response suggested this tightening in accountability laws, ministers present at the press conference said.
Hamid, while speaking before a Senate standing committee on Jan 2, had said the government would review the NAB Ordinance keeping in view the growing criticism regarding plea bargain and voluntary return.
The law minister had said this after committee members, following intense deliberations, recommended that the NAB Ordinance of 1999 be reviewed.