ISLAMABAD: Continuing to create hurdles for the coalition government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, President Dr Arif Alvi on Saturday refused to assent to the bills recently passed by the two houses of parliament, seeking amendments to the accountability and election laws, and returned the two pieces of legislation to the government for “consideration and detailed deliberations” by parliament and its committees.

The president, who belongs to the former ruling party Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), has returned the two crucial bills using his powers under Article 75(1) of the Constitution, according to an official handout issued by the President’s Office.

Article 75(1) states: “When a bill is presented to the president for assent, the president shall, within [ten] days (a) assent to the bill; or (b) in the case of a bill other than a money bill, return the bill to the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) with a message requesting that the bill or any specified provision thereof, be reconsidered and that any amendment specified in the message be considered.”

Sources in the ruling coalition told Dawn that in order to counter the president’s move, the government was considering getting the two bills passed in the joint sitting of parliament scheduled to be held on June 7, under Article 75(2) of the Constitution.

Govt may get both pieces of legislation passed by joint sitting of parliament on 7th

Article 75(2) reads: “When the president has returned a bill to the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament), it shall be reconsidered by the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) in joint sitting and, if it is again passed, with or without amendment, by the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament), by the votes of the majority of the members of both Houses present and voting, it shall be deemed for the purposes of the Constitution to have been passed by both Houses and shall be presented to the president, and the president shall give his assent within 10 days, failing which such assent shall be deemed to have been given.”

The sources said the government would make all-out efforts to get the two bills passed from parliament before presentation of the federal budget in the National Assembly on June 10, as it could not bring any legislation during the budget session.

The coalition government had managed to get the Elections (Amendment) Bill 2022 and National Accoun­tability (Second Amend­ment) Bill 2021 passed from the National Assembly and the Senate on May 26 and May 28, respectively.

Through the elections bill, the government had reversed controversial changes that had been made by the previous PTI government in the 2017 law to introduce i-voting by overseas Pakistanis and the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the next general elections, whereas through the bill seeking amendments to the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999, the government had sought to clip vast powers of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). In the National Assembly, the government faced no problem in getting the two bills passed, but witnessed a strong opposition in the Upper House where the PTI senators lodged a noisy protest over the move to pass the bills without referring them to the house committees.

While returning the two bills to parliament, President Alvi has come out with a detailed reasoning, besides alleging that the government had violated Article 46 of Constitution by not informing him about the legislative proposals before bringing them to parliament. He quoted Article 46 that “the prime minister shall keep the president informed… on all legislative proposals the federal government intends to bring before the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament)”.

The president further observed that the amendments had been passed by the National Assembly and the Senate “in haste and without due diligence”, adding the legislation having far-reaching impact on society should have been discussed in detail in consultation with the legal fraternity and civil society.

Dr Alvi, who represented the PTI in the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms under the then finance minister Ishaq Dar which had finalised the Elections Act 2017, said the overseas Pakistanis, who contribute their hard-earned wealth to the development and prosperity of their country, had been deprived of voting rights despite the fact that various commitments had been made to them by different prime ministers and presidents during their overseas trips since the 1990s.

“As a result of constant pursuance by them, the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2018 upheld its earlier decision of 2014 on the voting rights to overseas Pakistanis and reiterated that with improving technology, efforts should be made to allow them to vote from outside of Pakistan,” said the president.

Dr Alvi said the court had approved i-voting for utilisation in a pilot project, which was supposed to be a real vote-casting against a mock exercise to empower the overseas Pakistanis to cast their votes during by-elections held after 2018.

He reiterated his previous stance given during the parliamentary committee’s meeting as an MNA that the objections to the possibility of hacking i-voting had no ground as the amount of digital financial transactions taking place were to the tune of approximately $5 trillion daily, which had been increasing to almost $8.5tr every day.

The president also defended the previous PTI government’s policy of introducing EVMs in the elections.

Similarly, while dilating on the proposed amendments to the NAO 1999, the president said they shifted the burden of proof to the prosecution, which made the NAB law similar to the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) 1898. This, he added, would make it impossible for the prosecution to prove cases of corruption and misuse of official authority by state officials and bury the process of accountability.

Moreover, he said, such amendments were also against the spirit of Islamic jurisprudence and various accountability laws of developed countries, such as Swiss Foreign Illicit Assets Act 2010 and Unexplained Wealth Order 2018 of the UK in White-Collar Crimes.

The president emphasised that these amendments would make the tracing of money trail for the acquisition of illegal assets almost impossible, especially when the records of the property/assets/wealth were neither digitised nor could be traced, especially in benami properties, by investigators.

He said if the amendments were enacted as proposed, the ongoing mega corruption cases in courts would be rendered infructuous. Therefore, the proposed amendments, which should have strengthened the accountability mechanism to eliminate corruption and political engineering to ensure good governance in the country, had been rendered a toothless entity.

Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2022

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