Law minister defends clipping of NAB’s wings

Published May 28, 2022
This photo shows Federal Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar (C), Senator Kamran Murtaza of the JUI-F  (L) and Faisal Karim Kundi of the PPP (R) at a press conference in Islamabad on Friday. — PID website
This photo shows Federal Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar (C), Senator Kamran Murtaza of the JUI-F (L) and Faisal Karim Kundi of the PPP (R) at a press conference in Islamabad on Friday. — PID website

ISLAMABAD: The coalition government defended on Friday the amendments to accountability laws, scrapping of electronic voting and explained the logic behind clipping the National Accountability Bureau’s powers of arrest.

During a joint press conference, Federal Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar, Senator Kamran Murtaza of the JUI-F and Faisal Karim Kundi of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) highlighted the salient features of amendments made to the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), the law which governed NAB, and the technical hitches involved in conducting voting for the next general election through electronic voting machines (EVMs).

Mr Tarar said the Election Commi­ssion of Pakistan (ECP), and not the government, conducted elections and it is up to the ECP to decide in which constituencies it would use EVMs.

He said, however, the ECP had already told the Supreme Court that if elections were held within eight months, it wouldn’t be able to use EVMs because time was needed to train the staff in operating them.

“We have not rejected the use of EVMs in elections; rather we have left the matter for the ECP to decide,” Mr Tarar added.

Speaking about accountability laws, the minister said “historically speaking, most amendments to NAB laws were made for political reasons”.

He recalled that the apex court had in September 2019 put a question mark over NAB laws and observed that the bureau was used for political engineering.

Since no offence was bailable under the existing law, the amendments had empowered courts to grant bail, the law minister said.

The amendments have defined the grounds for arresting a person, whereas under the present law it was the NAB chairman’s discretion to issue arrest warrants. “The power has not been exercised judiciously.”

He said the 90-day rem­and had been reduced to 14 days and the deadline for concluding a trial had been extended to one year from 30 days.

Senator Kamran Murtaza of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl said even though his party was in favour of winding up the National Accountability Bureau, it gave its assent to the amendments since the new law would clip NAB’s powers to a great extent.

Law Minister Tarar tried to dispel apprehensions that the government was going to deprive the overseas Pakistanis of the right to vote.

Faisal Karim Kundi of PPP said overseas Pakistanis were a precious asset and “we cannot deprive them of their right to vote”.

The recent legislation is aimed at enabling the ECP to thrash out a strategy to ensure the right to vote for overseas Pakistanis in a transparent manner.

The Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms, headed by Sen­ator Taj Haider, earlier had held 18 meetings and took the input of exp­erts including ECP representatives.

Among other organisations consulted by the committee were the Free and Fair Election Network, the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency and a Spanish firm appointed in line with the Supreme Court’s directives.

These bodies were unanimous in their view that it was not possible to use EVMs on “such a large scale”.

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2022

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