Highlighting significant amendments made by the government in the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999 (NAO) before it's formally rolled out, federal Law Minister Farogh Naseem on Wednesday said the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) would have no jurisdiction over private persons under the amended ordinance, which according to him could be promulgated "any time".
Flanked by Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry at a press conference, Naseem said it had not been decided whether the current NAB chairman would be reappointed, adding that the word "non-extendable" now stood omitted from the ordinance to create "a big pool" for selection.
He explained that the NAB chairperson's appointment would be made by the president of Pakistan in consultation with both leaders of the House. If the consultation is not consensus-oriented and fails, a parliamentary committee will be formed by the National Assembly speaker having six members each from the opposition and the government.
The minister said any complaints of misconduct against the NAB chairman would be referred to the Supreme Judicial Council. He emphasised that the old NAB chairman would continue to serve in the position until the new chairperson was appointed.
He underlined that a private person not connected to a public office was now out of NAB's jurisdiction, adding that an amendment was also made for bureaucracy as it was among the important pillars of the country.
"We are also enhancing the role of prosecutor general because this position has power and function all over the world. After the amendment, the NAB will also take advice from it," the minister added.
Naseem said the prosecutor would have to ensure fairness and fundamental rights in a case treatment. "He will advise whether the prosecution should continue or not."
With the amendments, all taxation matters will be transferred to the Federal Board of Revenue, the minister said, adding that the development "will not end cases, but just change the forum. In tax issues, recovery of the amount is a basic criterion."
Thanking the chief justice of Pakistan for his efforts to speed up legal cases, Naseem said 30 out of the 90 additional accountability courts sought by the Supreme Court had been established.
"Now we are reworking the method for the appointment of former judges into these courts as we want a bigger pool. We don't have the number of judges to fill all vacancies," he said, adding that it was decided that district or additional district judges would qualify to become NAB court judges.
The pool will comprise retired judges of special courts and high courts, civil judges, and additional district judges. If their age is below 68 years then consultation will be held with the chief justice of Pakistan, Naseem told the presser.
Bail powers to trial courts
The minister said previously it was a moot point that trial courts lacked powers to grant bail. "Now bail powers are being given to trial courts," he announced.
He highlighted that there was also another problem related to plea bargains and voluntary return. "We have fixed that defect now."
He said under the amended ordinance, "those opting for voluntary return will face disqualification for 10 years and this amendment will take effect retroactively."
He stressed that people falling in the above category should resign before action was taken against them.
Detailing further reforms, Naseem said in future case management hearings, modern devices would be used for recording evidence, and audio-video recording would be conducted of the entire testimony to ensure accuracy.
Provisions have also been made to record the demeanour of any judge. If a bank or financial institution take any decision, the NAB will take no action on it until prior approval of the State Bank of Pakistan governor. This ordinance will also enhance the role of the SBP governor, according to the minister. Decisions of Ecnec, the federal cabinet, Council of Common Interests and constitutional bodies will also be out of NAB's authority.
In his remarks, Information Minister Chaudhry said following the ordinance, it would also be presented in the form of an act.
"We will consult the opposition on it and we are inviting them to propose amendments to it; we will [introduce] reforms through an act of parliament," he said, adding that Prime Minister Imran Khan believed that the NAB "should not have an extended scope that creates confusion".
"We have removed private disputes, banking disputes and tax evasion from NAB's scope and the watchdog will now focus on major corruption," the minister stated.
He explained that the prosecutor general would file cases and would be responsible to make sure punishment was doled out. "We also intend to stop NAB from doing the dirty work and take cases to their logical conclusion," he said.
Chaudhry reiterated that Prime Minister Imran would not consult opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif regarding the new NAB chairperson's appointment."Consultation with the opposition is a yes, and consultation with Shehbaz Sharif is a no. This is our clear stance," he said.