ISLAMABAD: The parliamentary panel on accountability laws cannot figure out how to bring the superior judiciary and the armed forces under the ambit of proposed anti-graft legislation.

The National Assembly unanimously voted in August last year for a motion to set up a joint 20-member parliamentary committee to recommend changes to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Act.

Subsequently, Speaker Ayaz Sadiq formed the 20-member body in January this year, consisting of members from both houses of parliament. The committee was supposed to present its recommendations within three months.

NA body tasked with changing NAB law struggling with jurisdiction issues

However, the body has yet to decide what the jurisdiction of the proposed legislation will be.

The parliamentary panel, chaired by Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid, met in-camera on Friday to finalise proposals to overhaul the accountability law.

Following the meeting, Mr Hamid told mediapersons that the committee had finalised major changes to the law, but admitted that: “The main points yet to be agreed upon include the definition of ‘public office holders’, ‘corruption’ and ‘corrupt practice’.”

He said that these points could not be discussed, since no one representing the Pakistan Peoples Party was present in Friday’s meeting.

“Syed Naveed Qamar was also not present, and while Farhatullah Babar did not attend the meeting, he has sent written proposals regarding amendments to the accountability law,” the law minister said.

He said that the government wanted a consensual legislation and expressed the hope that a broader consensus would soon be developed on the proposed legislation.

He added that the committee had decided to meet on a weekly basis to finalise the law as soon as possible.

In addition to legal technicalities, there was another issue regarding the territorial jurisdiction of the proposed law, Mr Hamid said.

“We have to decide whether the jurisdiction of the legislation would extend to the entire country, or would remain limited to the territorial jurisdiction of the federal capital and the federal government,” he explained.

“Initially, the law was to be extended to the entire country. But Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has established their own Ehtesab Bureau and the Peshawar High Court (PHC) has given a nod to the new legislation,” the law minister said.

However, he said that NAB would remain functional in KP, adding that in case of any conflict with provincial anti-graft laws, NAB law will prevail.

The Sindh government, on the other hand, repealed NAB laws in the province, a move that Mr Hamid did not agree with. “The matter is pending before the Sindh High Court (SHC),” he said, adding that these issues needed to be clarified and would be discussed in upcoming meetings of the committee.

Sources privy to the development said that a majority of members agreed to apply the law to all functionaries mentioned in the service of Pakistan, including armed forces personnel and members of the judiciary.

However, since judges of the superior courts can only be tried by the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) under Article 209 of the Constitution; and the army has its own courts, it would be difficult to extend the scope of law to both branches, sources said.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2017

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