Joint sitting passes bills seeking electoral reforms, amendments to NAB ordinance

Published June 9, 2022
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and other legislators attend the joint sitting of the parliament on Thursday. — DawnNewsTV
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and other legislators attend the joint sitting of the parliament on Thursday. — DawnNewsTV

The Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2022 and the National Accountability (Amendment) Bill, 2021 were passed by the joint session of the parliament on Thursday.

The government had convened the joint sitting to consider the two bills, which had been passed by the two houses of the parliament but eventually sent back by President Dr Arif Alvi for reconsideration.

The bills will now be presented to the president once again for his assent. If the president does not give his approval within 10 days, it would be deemed to have been given.

During today's joint sitting, Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar presented both the bills and read them out clause by clause for approval. While presenting the bills, the minister alleged that the president had returned them in order to cater to the whims of the political party he was affiliated with.

He highlighted that there was no provision in the Constitution which bound parliament to consider the amendments suggested by the president. However, one of the amendments suggested by the president — where the NAB chairman could declare any place as a sub-jail — was included in the bill seeking to amend the NAB ordinance.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said the bills were passed after holding a thorough debate in both houses of parliament.

During the session, Jamaat-i-Islami Senator Mushtaq Ahmed Khan proposed an amendment seeking reserved seats for overseas Pakistanis in the National Assembly and Senate.

He also proposed that a seat be declared vacant if a lawmaker did not take oath within 120 days of his election. However, both the amendments were rejected.

Later, NA Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf adjourned the sitting till July 20.

Both bills were passed by the National Assembly and the Senate last month and sent to President Alvi as his assent was required for them to become law.

However, the president had returned the bills, saying that they had violated Article 46 of the Constitution, according to which the prime minister "shall keep the president informed on all matters of internal and foreign policy and on all legislative proposals the federal government intends to bring before Majlis-i-Shoora (parliament)".

Amendments

Under the amendment to Section 94 of the Election Act of 2017, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) may conduct pilot projects for voting by overseas Pakistanis in by-elections to ascertain the technical efficacy, secrecy, security and financial feasibility of such voting and shall share the results with the government, which shall, within 15 days from the commencement of a session of a house after the receipt of the report, lay the same before both houses of parliament.

Under the amendment to Section 103 of the Election Act, the ECP may conduct pilot projects to utilise electronic voting machines and the biometric verification system in by-elections.

Meanwhile, the NAB (Second Amendment) Bill 2021 states that NAB's deputy chairman, to be appointed by the federal government, would become the acting chairman of the bureau following the completion of the tenure of the chairman.

The bill has also reduced the four-year term of the NAB chairman and the bureau's prosecutor general to three years. After approval of the law, NAB will not be able to act on federal, provincial or local tax matters. Moreover, the regulatory bodies functioning in the country have also been placed out of NAB's domain.

It says that "all pending inquiries, investigations, trials or proceedings under this ordinance, relating to persons or transactions … shall stand transferred to the concerned authorities, departments and courts under the respective laws."

It has also set a three-year term for the judges of the accountability courts. It will also make it binding upon the courts to decide a case within one year. Under the proposed law, it has been made binding upon NAB to ensure the availability of evidence against an accused prior to his or her arrest.

According to one of the key amendments, the act "shall be deemed to have taken effect on and from the commencement of the National Accountability Ordinance 1999".

Under the amendment to Section 94 of the Election Act of 2017, the ECP may conduct pilot projects for voting by overseas Pakistanis in by-elections to ascertain the technical efficacy, secrecy, security and financial feasibility of such voting and shall share the results with the government, which shall, within 15 days from the commencement of a session of a house after the receipt of the report, lay the same before both houses of parliament.

PTI lawmakers stage protest

Earlier, female parliamentarians belonging to the PTI staged a protest outside the Parliament House against inflation and the passage of the bills, raising slogans against the government.

When security stopped the lawmakers from entering Parliament House, they attempted to scale the entrance gate in an attempt to enter the building. The protesters, led by PTI's Aliya Hamza Malik, Kanwal Shauzab and Malika Bukhari, were also carrying placards inscribed with slogans against the government.

The demonstrators were later dispersed after the security personnel opened the gates.

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