PESHAWAR: Retired Lt Gen Mohammad Hamid Khan, the director general of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Ehtesab Commission, resigned on Wednesday in protest against promulgation of an ordinance by the provincial government that drastically amended the Ehtesab Act of 2015.
The ordinance, promulgated on Tuesday, makes approval of the five-member commission mandatory for arresting a suspect and reduces the maximum period of physical custody of a suspect from 45 to 15 days.
The ordinance provides that no legislator will be arrested by the commission without prior intimation to the Senate’s chairman or the speaker of the national or provincial assembly, as the case may be. Similarly the chief secretary will have to be informed before the arrest of a civil servant.
Gen Khan sent a three-page resignation letter to KP Governor Sardar Mehtab Ahmad and said that the amendments had rendered the post of director general redundant, made the accountability process controversial and questionable and negated the autonomy of the accountability watchdog.
Provincial govt drastically amended Ehtesab Act
Gen Khan, who was appointed in Oct 2014, said: “In less than two years, the commission has conducted 90 inquiries and 43 investigations and filed 13 references. For the first time in KP’s history, powerful ministers and senior bureaucrats have been arrested on corruption charges and their cases are being processed in court.”
The letter said: “Firstly, there are serious differences between the undersigned (the DG) and the commission (members) on the interpretation of the Act, which has resulted in persistent interference in operational matters which is against the law. This issue cannot be resolved because of non-existence of any mechanism for this purpose.”
According to him, the Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) was to become part of the Ehtesab Commission, but changes were made in the law to enable the ACE to continue working as an independent entity.
Besides, he said, “there is (an) issue of the National Accountability Bureau’s jurisdiction which, after 18th Amendment, should restrict its activities to federal agencies only. However, the government is not taking notice of the undersigned’s assertion, resulting in regular disputes between the two agencies which if anything is benefiting the accused.”
He also said that the amendments made to the act had diluted powers of the director general.
On Feb 4, Hamid Khan sent a letter to Chief Minister Pervez Khattak requesting him to drop the idea of making amendments which, he said, would undermine the principle of an independent and transparent accountability process.
In another letter sent to the chief minister on Tuesday, he raised several legal points which, according to him, would affect the performance of the commission.
The ordinance has enhanced powers of the Ehtesab Commission comprising five members and placed checks on powers of the DG, particularly regarding arrest of suspects and filing of references in accountability courts.
Under the amendments, the commission is bound to complete an inquiry in 90 days and an investigation in 30 days. An inquiry may be converted into an investigation with the approval of the commission. A suspect will be arrested only during the investigation stage and not during inquiry.
Another important amendment stipulates that all persons appointed in the directorate general before the promulgation of the ordinance will be examined by a scrutiny committee to be constituted by the government.
Another amendment provides that no inquiry will be launched on an ‘anonymous’ complaint and a fine imposed over a frivolous complaint will not be less than Rs 500,000 and more than Rs2 million.
Furthermore, on completion of an inquiry or investigation, a prosecution conference will be held in seven days. The conference will be presided over by chief Ehtesab commissioner and attended by two commissioners, DG and prosecutor general. It will determine charges to be framed and references to be filed in the court. A decision will be made through majority of votes.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the provincial government has said that the changes in the Ehtesab law would render accountability process more meaningful, robust and speedy and strengthen the commission as an institution.
Many cases ‘filed in haste’ in the past had not yielded positive results, he said in a press release. The amendments empower the commission to acquire services of experts in different fields to ensure just and efficient decisions.
He said that the amendments would add to the authority of the Ehtesab Commission as an institution, rather than of individuals.
Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2016