The Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2022, and the National Accountability (Amendment) Bill, 2022 were passed in a joint session of Parliament on Thursday, a few days after they had been returned by President Arif Alvi for “reconsideration.”
Both bills had already been passed by both the National Assembly and the Senate and had required the assent of the president to become law. After their passage through a joint session following the president’s earlier refusal, they would once again be presented to Alvi for approval—if he does not approve the laws within 10 days, it would be de facto considered to have been issued.
Presenting the legislations, Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar claimed that the president had returned them to cater to the whims of a “certain” political party—a reference to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Alvi is affiliated with. Clarifying that the law did not require Parliament to consider any amendments suggested by the president, he said the government had still consented to a suggestion by Alvi to allow the NAB chairman to declare any location as a sub-jail.
He said that NAB had been used to keep politicians incarcerated for prolonged periods, adding: “In Islam, it is a rule that the person who blames another person has the burden of proving the crime. We had sent the NAB law to the Islamic Ideological Council,” he said, adding that it had also noted that the burden of proving the crime was on the accuser.
Tarar reiterated allegations of NAB being used for “political engineering,” adding that in most civilized states, the burden of proof lay with the accuser and not the accused.
Under the amendment to Section 94 of the Election Act of 2017, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) may conduct pilot projects of internet voting for overseas Pakistanis in by-elections to ascertain its technical efficacy, secrecy, security and financial feasibility. Its results would then be shared with the government, which would—within 15 days of the commencement of a session of a house after the receipt of the report—lay the same before both houses of Parliament.
Under an amendment to Section 103 of the Election Act, the ECP may also conduct pilot projects in by-elections for electronic voting machines and biometric verification.
For the NAB reforms, the anti-corruption watchdog’s deputy chairman would be appointed by the federal government and would become the acting chairman following the completion of the tenure of the incumbent chairman until the appointment of a new chairman.
The bill also reduces the term of the NAB chairman and prosecutor general to three years each and has restricted the watchdog from acting on federal, provincial or local tax matters. Regulatory bodies functioning in the country have also been placed out of NAB’s domain, with all pending inquiries to be transferred to the concerned authorities, departments and courts under respective laws.
Under the amendments, courts would have to decide all cases within a year and NAB would need to ensure the availability of evidence against an accused prior to their arrest. The amended law has also been brought into effect retroactively from the commencement of the National Accountability Ordinance 1999.