Senate passes bill for setting up financial crimes authority

Published August 4, 2023
State Minister for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar presented the bill in the Senate on Friday. — DawnNewsTV
State Minister for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar presented the bill in the Senate on Friday. — DawnNewsTV

The upper house of Parliament on Friday passed a bill to set up a new authority to counter money laundering and terror financing despite opposition from some Senators, a day after the legislation was rushed through the National Assembly.

The bill, titled “National Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Financing of Terrorism Authority Bill”, was tabled in the Senate by State Minister for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar.

According to the draft, the proposed authority will be headed by a chairman and will consist of the federal secretaries for finance, foreign affairs and interior; the State Bank of Pakistan governor; chairpersons of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, National Account­ability Bureau, and Federal Board of Revenue; directors general of the Federal Investigation Agency, Anti Narcotics Force and Financial Monitoring Unit; national coordinator of the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta); and chief secretaries of all four provinces, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.

It may be mentioned that most of these officials were also part of Nacta, formed in 2008. The authority — set up to improve coordination on counter-terrorism efforts — remained dormant for years as it could not convene its meetings because of the non-availability of members.

According to the new legislation, the proposed authority can convene meetings on the requisition of the chairman or half of its members.

As per the objectives of the draft bill, Pakistan is required to cooperate with international organisations “for anti-money laundering, countering financing of terrorism and targeted financial sanctions by way of promulgating requisite legal and regulatory framework.”

Shortly after tabling the bill, Khar attempted to “explain” the need for the legislation, saying that it appeared “dangerous” due to its title.

“In my eyes, this bill is actually an effort by the government of Pakistan for the continuation of the great work that the state has done to get Pakistan out of not only the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list, but now ensuring that the continuation of that work must happen in an institutionalised manner,” she said.

Khar also gave a rundown of FATF’s history. She said that it was created in 1989 by G7 countries with the primary goal of countering money laundering. She said that in 2001, countering terrorist financing was also included in taskforce’s mandate.

Khar further said that later, the United Nations Security Council recognised FATF as a “global norms setter” with regard to anti-money laundering, terrorist financing and controlling proliferation.

“And we have seen how FATF’s role has increased over the years. And we have seen the effects of this too,” she said.

She said that the monitoring of money laundering and terror financing could not be confined to one area. She said that the financial monitoring unit was set up under the Ministry of Finance while Nacta was also set up.

“So this bill basically is proposing to set up an authority,” she said, adding that the chairperson would be appointed by the premier.

Khar said that the authority will ensure that it is able to bring all the work that is happening within the government of Pakistan and the provinces at one place so that “we can monitor our progress, and if there are any loopholes, we can connect them and stop them before we run into serious problems”.

The state minister requested the House to pass the bill as “quickly as possible”.

Senator Yousaf Raza Gilani then said that this was an issue which concerned the whole country, terming it to be “important”. Meanwhile, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar asked Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani to get a “sense of the House”, noting that complaints had arisen that the treasury benches were “bulldozing” legislation.

The law minister said that this was a matter of “national interest”, saying that Pakistan was a sovereign state that needed to fulfil the commitments it had made to exit the FATF grey list. “We should take care [but] we never leave politics out of anything,” he said.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar then said that this was a “sensitive subject” and had a “long history”. “I dealt with this issue. In 2013, Pakistan was virtually on the black list,” the minister said, adding that Pakistan had to take “so many actions” to become “virtually grey” in 2014.

He said that Pakistan was removed from the grey list in 2015 after presenting its plan for the future. “Now, our job was to never let Pakistan come back into the grey list […] I think this is a national issue, kindly consider it,” he said, adding three months could not be afforded to the bill.

“Maximum I think it should be cleared on Sunday because it will cause us harm internationally by delaying it,” Dar said as he voiced his support for Khar’s request for taking up the bill at once.

PTI’s Mohsin Aziz, meanwhile, highlighted that editorials were being written about Parliament and various debates were taking place. He said that 12 bills were on today’s agenda.

“How can these be read in one day? How can deliberations be done? Some of these bills may be good but don’t make us a rubber stamp […] tell me what these collectives deliberations, these committees are for,” Aziz said.

“I don’t understand this haste […] 54 bills presented during the past four days and presented, I don’t think this has ever happened. What is the need for this haste?” he asked as he urged the Senate chairman to put the bill up for discussion.

When Sanjrani put the bill up for a vote, it was passed with 28 Senators voting in its favour and nine members opposing it. However, Senators Raza Rabbani, Kamran Murtaza, Tahir Bizenjo and Umer Farooq did not partake in the bill’s voting.

The Senate also approved the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Sciences and Technology, Islamabad (Amendment) Bill, 2023, National Skills University Islamabad (Amendment) Bill, 2023, Imports and Exports (Control) (Amendment) Bill, 2023, Trade Marks (Amendment) Bill, 2023, Hajj and Umrah (Regulation) Bill, 2023, Pakistan Ruet-e-Hilal Bill, 2023, Emigration (Amendment) Bill, 2023, National Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Financing of Terrorism Authority Bill, 2023, Gas (Theft Control and Recovery) (Amendment) Bill, 2023, Press Council of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill, 2023, and National Logistics Corporation Bill, 2023.

Pemra amendment bill referred to standing committee

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Electronic Media Reg­ulatory Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2023, was referred to the relevant standing committee of the Senate after fierce opposition.

 Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb tables Pemra amendment bill in Senate on Friday. — DawnNewsTV
Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb tables Pemra amendment bill in Senate on Friday. — DawnNewsTV

It was tabled by Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb.

Earlier this week, the National Assembly approved two key amendments to the bill, streamlining the procedures to register and monitor rating agencies of TV channels.

However, broadcasters have expressed concern over the government’s move and said that the powers to monitor the rating agencies should be given to advertisers.

The draft of the bill says that “disinformation means verifiably false, misleading, manipulated, created or fabricated information which is disseminated or shared with the intention to cause harm to the reputation of or to harass any person for political, personal, or financial interest or gains without making an effort to get other person’s point of view or not giving it proper coverage and space, but does not include misinformation”.

As for misinformation, the bill states that “misinformation means verifiable false content or information that is unintentionally disseminated or shared”.

The bill also authorises the Pemra to impose a fine of up to Rs1 million on a licensee who “contravenes any of the provisions of this ordinance or the rules or regulations of the code of conduct or terms and conditions of the licence” after giving them a reasonable opportunity to show cause.

While tabling the bill, Aurangzeb said the government had held consultations on the bill for 12 months. “Discussions on the definitions of information and disinformation took place for 11 months.”

She clarified that under the new amendments, fines over violation had been increased, adding that the definitions in the current law were “draconian” while the new bill gave room for errors.

The amendments, Aurangzeb continued, empowered Pemra as it took away the right from the body’s chairman to shut down channels and gave them to the authority.

“A time period of two months has been given for payments of minimum wages and arrears to journalists and a strict penalty would be imposed in the instance of non-compulsion,” she explained.

Talking about digital platforms, the minister said the platforms would only be able to run content aired on television, while 10 per cent of content would comprise “public service messages”.

During Marriyum’s speech, members of the opposition benches kept chanting ‘no’ and demanded that the bill be sent to the relevant Senate standing committee.

For her part, Aurangzeb said her party and she had faced “media censorship”. “But in the last 15 months, freedom of expression has jumped up seven points up on the international level.”

“What happened with Imran Riaz,” one of the opposition leaders interjected, referring to the anchorperson who has been “missing” since May 11.

Subsequently, Senate Chairman Sanjarani referred the Pemra Amendment Bill to the relevant standing committee.

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