ISLAMABAD: Amidst an undeclared boycott by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), the joint session of parliament on Thursday passed three bills, including those related to electoral reforms and the accountability law.
Amendments to the Elections Act 2017 sought to bar the use of electronic voting machines in the next general election and those to the National Accountability Bureau (Amendment) Bill were aimed at preventing the misuse of law for political engineering and victimisation of opponents.
Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Murtaza Javed Abbasi moved the Elections (Amendment) Bill 2022, while Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar tabled the NAB amendment bill.
Earlier, the bills had been forwarded to the president for his assent after their passage from the upper and lower houses, but were sent back to parliament for reconsideration. The bills will now be presented to the president once again, as per Article 75 of the Constitution. If the president does not sign them into law within 10 days, they would be deemed to have been assented to.
PTI boycotts session, women lawmakers protest against inflation, passage of controversial bills
The law minister alleged the president had returned the two bills to cater to the whims of the political party he was affiliated to. He said there was a need to amend the Constitution for the purpose and a parliamentary committee would be constituted for electoral reforms at a broader level. “We don’t want to only show our efforts, but will take serious steps for electoral reforms in the larger national interest,” he added.
Mr Tarar said legislation was the sole prerogative of parliament and the president could not dictate the legislature. He highlighted that there was no provision in the Constitution that bound parliament to consider the amendments suggested by the president.
However, the NAB bill was passed with one of the amendments suggested by the president, under which the bureau chairman could declare any place a sub-jail. 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 Pervaiz Ashraf adjourned the sitting till July 20.
As per an amendment to Section 94 of the Elections Act 2017, “the [election commission] 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 the house after the receipt of the report, lay the same before both houses of Majlis-i-Shoora (parliament)”.
An amendment to Section 103 stated the “[ECP] may conduct pilot projects for utilisation of electronic voting machines and biometric verification, casting and counting of votes to assess the technical efficacy, secrecy, security and financial feasibility of the electronic voting machines and biometric verification system”.
The NAB (Second Amendment) Bill 2021 states that the bureau’s deputy chairman, to be appointed by the federal government, would become the acting chairman following the completion of the chairman’s tenure.
The bill has also reduced the four-year term of the NAB chairman and prosecutor general to three years. After approval of the bill, the NAB will not be able to act on federal, provincial or local tax matters. Moreover, regulatory bodies have also been removed from the bureau’s domain.
It says “all pending inquiries, investigations, trials or proceedings under this ordinance, relating to persons or transactions… shall stand transferred to the authorities, departments and courts concerned under the respective laws”.
It has also set a three-year term for judges of the accountability courts. It is also set to make it binding upon the courts to decide a case within a year. Under the bill, it has been made binding upon the NAB to ensure the availability of evidence against a suspect 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”. The chairman will be appointed by the federal government after consultation between the leaders of the house and the opposition in the National Assembly.
Meanwhile, the joint sitting of parliament also passed the National Information Technology Board Bill moved by Information Technology Minister Aminul Haq. Two other bills on the agenda were deferred.
Earlier, women parliamentarians from the PTI staged a protest outside the Parliament House against inflation and passage of the two controversial bills, raising slogans against the government.
When security staff stopped the lawmakers from entering the premises, they tried to scale the entrance gate. The protesters, led by Aliya Hamza Malik, Kanwal Shauzab and Maleeka Bukhari, were also carrying placards inscribed with anti-government slogans.
APP adds: Also in the National Assembly, opposition leader Raja Riaz asked Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf to issue a ruling on the resignation submitted by PTI’s Shah Mehmood Qureshi, saying the former minister had on the floor of the house announced his resignation.
Moreover, Minister of State for Petroleum Dr Musadik Malik informed the lower house the government was giving up to 88 per cent per unit subsidy to domestic gas consumers of the two lowest slabs, which constituted 91pc and 80pc of the total households connected with the SNGPL and SSGC, respectively.
He also reiterated categorically that there were no “minutes, memorandum of understanding or any contract at government-to-government level” signed by the previous PTI government with Russia for import of oil at 30pc reduced rates.
The assembly also passed the Export-Import Bank of Pakistan Bill 2022 with a majority vote to establish a facility for the promotion of international trade. The bill was moved by Minister of State for Finance and Revenue Dr Aisha Ghaus-Pasha.
Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2022