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New law to rein in public officeholders

Updated October 31, 2013

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If enacted, the proposed law will end the elected representatives’ and the provincial government employees’ involvement in running private businesses parallel to their stint in their offices / posts.  — File Photo
If enacted, the proposed law will end the elected representatives’ and the provincial government employees’ involvement in running private businesses parallel to their stint in their offices / posts. — File Photo

PESHAWAR: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has planned to enact a law to keep public officeholders from gainful activities and promoting interest of family members by using official capacity and political influence.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-led government is working to introduce a ‘conflict of interest’ law in the province and a high-powered conflict of interest commission will also be set up.

“For the purpose of this (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Conflict of Interest Act, 2013), a public officeholder is in a conflict of interest when he or she exercises an official power, duty or function that provides an opportunity to further his or her private interest or those of his or her relatives or friends or to improperly further another person’s private interests,” states the draft law, a copy of which is available with Dawn.

The draft law, if enacted in its current form after the approval by the provincial assembly, underlines to prohibit public officeholders from engaging in employment or the practice of a profession; managing or operating a business or commercial activity; continuing as or becoming a director or officer in a corporation or an organisation; holding office in a union or professional association; serving as a paid consultant; or being an active partner in a partnership.

The proposed law defines ‘public officeholder’ as the governor of the province, the chief minister, the speaker and deputy speaker of the provincial assembly, provincial ministers, advisers and special assistants to the chief minister, provincial parliamentary secretaries, members of the provincial assembly, advocate general including additional and assistant advocates general, political secretaries, consultants to the chief minister and those holding or having held posts or offices with the rank of provincial ministers.

Furthermore, judges of the high court and subordinate courts, any person holding an office or a post in the service of the province, or any service in connection with the affairs of the province, or of a local government institution constituted under any provincial law relating to the constitution of local governments, cooperative societies or in the management or corporations, banks, financial institutions, firms, concerns, undertakings or any other institution or organisation established, controlled or administered by or under the provincial government.

If enacted, the proposed law will end the elected representatives’ and the provincial government employees’ involvement in running private businesses parallel to their stint in their offices / posts.

The proposed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commission, which would be notified in the official gazette, will be an independent body whose chairman or a member, as per the proposed law, must be a former judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan or the Peshawar High Court; or a former civil servant of Basic Pay Scale-21 or above with ‘demonstrated’ expertise in ‘one or more of the following’: conflict of interest, financial arrangements, professional regulation and discipline or adjudication for determination of civil rights, or an eminent member of civil society with 20 years experience of heading a registered and well reputed civil society organisation, including a non-governmental organisation.

The proposed law envisages provisions in detail to appoint, manage, and run the affairs of the commission, making it all powerful in its decisions.

“No public officeholder shall make a decision or participate in making a decision related to the exercise of an official power, duty or function if the public officeholder knows or reasonably should know that, in the making of the decision, he or she would be in conflict of interest,” contains the draft law, adding “ no provincial minister shall, in his or her capacity as a member of the Provincial Assembly, debate or vote on a question that would place him or her in a conflict of interest.”

Public officeholders, according to the proposed law, will not be allowed to ‘knowingly be a party to a contract with a public sector entity under which he or she receives a personal benefit, other than a contract under which he or she is entitled to pension benefits.’

Similarly, the proposed law prohibits public officeholders from accepting gifts except for conditions already described under the law, they would not be allowed to travel on non-commercial chartered or private aircrafts for any purpose unless required in his or her capacity or in exceptional circumstances or with the prior approval of the commission.

The clause 16 of the proposed law bars public officeholders from benefiting their family members, including siblings, children, and spouses by using their influence.

“No public officeholder who otherwise has the authority shall, in exercise of his or her official powers, duties and functions, enter into a contract or employment relationship with his or her spouse, sibling or parent,” contains the proposed law, adding “no public officeholder, who otherwise has the authority shall permit the public sector entity for which he or she is responsible, or to which he or she is assigned, to enter into a contract or employment relationship with his or her spouse, common-law partner, child, sibling or parent except in accordance with an impartial administrative New law to rein in public officeholders process in which the public officeholder plays no part.’

The proposed law envisages detailed conditions that would make it binding for all public officeholders to make public declarations of their assets, their liabilities of Rs 1 million and above, declare the gifts they received (from organisations/persons other than their family members and friends), and travel details as required under the proposed law.

They would be required to provide ‘summary statement’ to the commission within 120 days after assuming the responsibility as a public officeholder.

The commission will be empowered to issue notice if it believed on reasonable grounds that a public officeholder has committed a violation in accordance with the proposed law, which also recommends penalties to take on the offenders.