The federal cabinet on Monday passed the National Accountability (Third Amendment) Bill, 2022, with fresh legislation aiming to restrict the watchdog's role in corruption cases of over Rs500 million and taking away the president's authority to appoint accountability court judges.
The joint session of the Parliament on June 10 approved the National Accountability (Second Amendment) Bill, 2021. The bill was opposed and returned unsigned by President Arif Alvi before it became the law.
According to the documents of the new bill, available with Dawn.com, the offence of corruption and corrupt practices as per the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999, will be tied to the value of Rs500m. Hence, corruption cases under Rs500m will not come under the National Accountability Bureau's (NAB) ambit, if the bill is passed.
Likewise, Section 16 of the NAO has been replaced with an amendment that suggests that an accused will be tried for an offence under the ordinance in the court under whose territorial jurisdiction the offence was alleged to have been committed. Earlier, there was no territorial limits.
Meanwhile, in a proposed amendment to Section 19E, NAB's authority to allow surveillance with the help of a high court will be withdrawn, including any assistance from government agencies to be used against the accused in the trial.
The said section has been replaced with a new one which states that any person called to provide information in relation to an offence alleged to have been committed will be informed of the allegations against them so they can file their defence in court.
Another proposed amendment will strip the president of his authority to appoint judges of accountability courts in consultation with high court chief justices. That privilege will instead reside with the federal government.
Similarly, Section 20, which stated that whoever failed to provide the required information to NAB was punishable with rigorous imprisonment extendable to five years with a fine. Following the amendment, the said section will apply only to cases with a cash transaction over Rs2 million.
In an amendment to Section 31B, the chairman's powers to terminate cases and pending proceedings were further extended, including withdrawal of cases both partly or wholly, but subject to certain conditions.
Last month, the PTI approached the Supreme Court against the earlier NAB bill, with party chairman Imran Khan arguing that tweaks to the Ordinance would pave the way for public office-holders to get away with white-collar crimes.