ISLAMABAD: A week after successfully managing to get two FATF-related bills passed separately from the two houses of parliament, the government now intends to get another crucial bill passed through the joint sitting of parliament on Thursday (today).

The bill is required to meet some conditions of the global money laundering and terror financing watchdog to bring Pakistan out of grey list.

The National Assembly Secretariat on Wednesday issued one-point agenda for the joint sitting which contains only the Mutual Legal Assistance (Criminal Matter) Bill 2020 — the third one to meet some of the conditions of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) against terrorism.

Realising the fact that the opposition has a slight majority when the two houses will go together into the session, the government on Wednesday engaged the opposition parties at the eleventh hour to seek their support to the bill which provides for exchange of information and criminals with countries.

The opposition has a majority of just nine votes if the two houses are combined together. According to party position, the number of opposition members in the 443-member joint house comes to 226 against 217 treasury members.

Govt plans to pass another crucial FATF-related law; Shahbaz expected to attend session after 10 months

The sources said a meeting between the government and the members of two major opposition parties — the PML-N and the PPP — was held at the residence of National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser in which the opposition refused to accept the bill in its existing form and suggested some amendments. Talks were still under way till our going to the press.

Sources in the PML-N told Dawn that party president and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif was expected to attend the session after 10 months. They said all parliamentarians of the PML-N had been directed to ensure their presence in a meeting of the joint parliamentary group before the start of the session.

Talking to Dawn on Monday, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan had expressed the hope that everybody from the treasury and the opposition would play his or her national role and the FATF-related bills would easily be carried through the joint session.

The government had managed to get the Mutual Legal Assistance (Criminal Matter) Bill passed from the National Assembly on Jan 6 after overcoming the customary resistance by the opposition parties, which initially tried to block its passage by challenging the speaker’s ruling on a voice vote allowing Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan to move the bill, but after a 87-83 vote defeat it participated in the process and moved four minor amendments — two of them were even incorporated in the bill.

The opposition had termed the bill against fundamental rights of people, claiming that after its passage, the government would be able to seek information from foreign countries and extradite its own citizens on the demand of other countries even without signing a treaty.

It had objected to “unfettered powers” given to the interior secretary to seek information about foreign bank accounts and transactions made by any citizen. It had also objected to a clause in the bill which allowed the government to hand over individuals to countries even without demand.

The bill, however, could not sail through the Senate, where the opposition is in majority, within 90-day constitutional time frame, forcing the government to get it passed through the joint sitting.

Under the law, the government would be able to make mutual legal assistance request to a country to “inquire about the location and identification of witnesses, suspects, perpetrators and offenders; have evidence taken or documents or other articles produced; obtain search warrants or other lawful instruments authorising a search for evidence relevant to investigations or proceedings in Islamic Republic of Pakistan, located or as permissible under the domestic law of that country believed to be located in that country and if found, to seize them as permissible under the domestic law of that country; freeze or seize properties that may be the subject of investigations or proceedings through relevant legal process in that county; and transfer in custody to Islamic Republic of Pakistan a person in foreign country who consented to assist Islamic Republic of Pakistan in the relevant investigation or proceedings”.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2020