Under new law, only public office holders would be subject to probes by the anti-graft watchdog
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led government has promulgated an ordinance to insulate businessmen from investigations and harassment by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Friday.
Addressing a ceremony to distribute awards to the Top 25 companies of the Pakistan Stock Exchange in Karachi, Khan said NAB’s job was to scrutinize public officer holders. “For the scrutiny of businessmen, there are other institutions, including the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR),” he said, as he congratulated the business community on being exempt from NAB probes.
The new ordinance—The National Accountability (Amendment) Ordinance, 2019—has severely restrained the anti-graft watchdog. The key changes to the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999 appear to be designed to benefit politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen, all of whom have been complaining about harassment under the nebulous authority it has enjoyed thus far. Several members of the business community had said they feared making new investments because NAB was not allowing them to function normally. Similarly, government employees have said they had stopped trying to expedite work because they worried that NAB would haul them up for ignoring procedure.
- NAB will not be allowed to take up any case of corruption unless they exceed a value of Rs. 500 million
- NAB’s investigations will only apply to any person of entity that is directly or indirectly linked to a public office-holder
- NAB will no longer have any jurisdiction over matters pertaining to federal or provincial taxation, levies or imposts. Any ongoing inquiries under these headings would be transferred to the respective authorities or departments
- any ongoing trials that pertain to matters no longer under NAB jurisdiction would be transferred from accountability courts to criminal courts
- NAB cannot act against “procedural lapses” in government projects or schemes unless it can prove accused public office holders have materially benefited beyond known sources of income
- NAB cannot construe misuse of authority by a public office holder unless there is evidence that it has resulted in material benefit beyond known income
- NAB will not be allowed to issue public statements at the stages of inquiry and investigation
- NAB will now have to file formal references within 14 days, as compared to its earlier 90 days
- NAB will have to complete an inquiry within six months
- NAB will be barred from reopening an inquiry once it has been completed
- A six-member scrutiny committee will be formed that will decide whether or not NAB can proceed against any government servant
A summary, drafted by the Ministry of Law and Justice, and distributed among members of the federal cabinet clarified that the changes to the ordinance were required as NAB was “dealing with a large number of inquiries and investigation in addition to handling mega corruption cases.” It noted that several inquiries had been “initiated against the holders of public office and government servants on account of procedural lapses where no actual corruption in involved.”
The summary added that, currently, NAB was interfering in the jurisdiction of taxation regulatory bodies. “It is therefore felt necessary to define through the subject amendments the operational domain of NAB,” it added.