ISLAMABAD: Wednesday proved to be another bad day for the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) when Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed noted that the accused in NAB references had to wait for their entire life to see the conclusion of those cases.
The Supreme Court also asked the federal government to decide at the earliest about Section 25(a) of the National Accountability Ordinance 1999 (NAO) that deals with voluntary return.
The observation came when one of the petitioners, journalist Asad Kharral, apprised the three-judge SC bench that NAB had transferred around 50 cases to the Pakistan Customs department for trial against the accused after the recent amendment to the NAO by the government.
Headed by CJP Ahmed, the bench also comprised Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Sajjad Ali Shah.
The petitioner told the bench that the ordinance through which NAO was amended had not only clipped the powers of the NAB chairman but also failed to do anything about voluntary return.
SC asks govt to decide early about NAO section dealing with voluntary return
At this, the chief justice remarked that at least the customs department would decide the cases in six months. He said the cases remained pending before NAB for decades as the bureau conducted initial inquiries before filing the cases and then placed around 200 people on the list of witnesses to record their evidence.
“And the one against whom a reference is filed waits for a lifetime to see the conclusion of the case,” the chief justice observed.
The SC had taken up the suo motu case initiated on the basis of the Sept 2, 2016 observation of former SC judge Justice Amir Hani Muslim during a NAB appeal in which the judge had deplored about the powers of the NAB chairman to allow an offender found guilty of committing corruption to get off scot-free without any stigma after voluntary return of the embezzled money.
In some cases, the former judge had noted, the accused persons were even allowed to join their previous jobs from which they had been fired for committing corruption only if they voluntarily returned the embezzled amount.
Section 25(a) of NAO, Justice Hani had observed, prima facie, seemed to be in conflict with the provisions of the Constitution, therefore, the vires of this provision needed to be examined.
In his observations, Justice Hani had also stated that the issue concerned question of public importance having far-reaching effect that have a direct bearing on the fundamental rights of the citizens of Pakistan.
The Supreme Court had on Oct 24, 2017 restrained former NAB chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry from approving voluntary return till the time the court decided the fate of the provision.
The order then had emphasized the need of laying down certain principles regarding cognisance of NAB in corruption matters under Section 9 of NAO to further examine whether NAB could extend its jurisdiction to take cognisance of the case which fall within the domain of the Anti-Corruption Authorities or the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).
The SC had also felt the need of examining Section 9 of NAO after realising that NAB had started taking up the matters which involved less than Rs100 million despite the fact that NAO was legislated primarily to counter mega scandals.
On Wednesday, Additional Attorney General Chaudhry Aamir Rehman told the SC that the government was trying to develop a consensus to present an appropriate legislation for making amendments to the NAB law.
When the court inquired whether Section 25 (a) of NAO had been removed or amended, PPP Senator Farooq H. Naek said he had moved a private member’s bill that had been pending before a Senate committee. “Once the committee approves the bill which suggests deletion of Section 25(a), the same will be tabled in the parliament,” Mr Naek added.
In its order, the court noted not only the present case but several other cases regarding volunteer return had been pending since 2016. The bench expressed the hope that the functionaries concerned would settle the matter soon, as the court wanted the parliament to decide the matter as early as possible.
However, the bench said, if the parliament did not come up with legislation, the court would decide the matter.
Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2020