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Deterrence against graft: Plea bargain to cost lifetime ban

ISLAMABAD: In the wake of scathing criticism of the plea bargain and voluntary return laws, the government has decided to amend the accountability law to slap a lifetime ban on corrupt officials and politicians who strike such deals with the National Accountability Bureau.

“The government has decided to amend Section 25-A of the National Accountability Ordinance 1999, and now a person found involved in corrupt practices will be banned for a lifetime from holding any public or government office,” Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said on Saturday.

Dar was addressing a news conference flanked by Law Minister Zahid Hamid, IT Minister Anusha Rehman and Special Assistant to PM on Law Barrister Zafarullah.

“Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had assigned the task of reviewing this law and the cabinet approval has also been obtained to change the existing law (25-A). The ordinance in this regard will be issued today Saturday before 12am.”

“The ordinance will help to take effective action against corrupt elements,” he added.

Dar said the earlier provision of NAB about voluntary return did not entail disqualification of a public officeholder or dismissal of government servant who entered into voluntary arrangements. Nor did it require approval of the accountability court.

“The practice let the corrupt to continue to be a holder of public office or a government service. The provision for plea bargain required approval of the court but barring a person from holding public office was for a period of ten years only,” he said.

Dar said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif directed the Law Review Committee, which he himself heads, to propose necessary amendments in these provisions on priority basis.

“Accordingly, certain amendments were proposed, which have been approved by the PM and the federal cabinet and are going to be promulgated as an ordinance,” he said.

Dar said a 20-member parliamentary committee has also been constituted to revisit the NAB ordinance 1999 and to propose recommendations. “The committee will hold its first meeting on January 11 and elect its chairperson,” he said.

“This ordinance will be tabled in the Senate on Monday and it is the prerogative of parliament to bring more changes in the law,” he said.

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He said the government decided to promulgate an ordinance for immediate and effective action against corrupt elements as it would take time if this legislation was enacted through a bill so.

Dar said it was need of the hour and parliament would debate on it in the coming sessions. “We are not against parliament and our government stands for democracy.”

The finance minister said a decision to introduce amendments was taken after criticism from different quarters including political opposition and judiciary on Section 25-A of the NAB Ordinance.

“There had been specific observations about Section 25-A and the Supreme Court had also asked the attorney general about the government stance on the issue,” he said.

The Supreme Court took suo motu notice against Section 25 of the NAB ordinance in October 2016.

While hearing the case, the Supreme Court’s former chief justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali had observed that: “Voluntary return of the embezzled money by public servants is increasing corruption and that they should not be allowed to remain in service.”

The issue also echoed at different forums, especially in the upper house of parliament where the plea bargain and voluntary return provisions were termed unfair.

Describing salient features of the proposed amendments, Dar said provisions of voluntary return and plea bargain had been merged. “As per the ordinance voluntary return arrangement would be subject to approval of the court and the NAB chairman would not be able to make a decision in this regard.”

He said the persons entering into such arrangements would be deemed convicted and would stand disqualified from holding public office.

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“If in government service, the person shall stand dismissed without any pecuniary benefits and shall not thereafter be eligible to hold public office,” said a press release shared with media later.

“Similarly a person convicted by the court for corruption and corrupt practices shall cease to hold public office and shall stand disqualified from being a holder of public office in future,” it added.

Speaking on the occasion, Zahid Hamid termed this ordinance `historic’ and ‘in line with the manifesto of the PML-N government’, which, he claimed, had a zero tolerance policy against corruption. He said all provisions under this new law about plea bargain and voluntary return would be merged.

“Several resolutions were adopted in the Senate and the National Assembly to root out the menace of corruption and this law will be revisited by Law Review Committee for a similar purpose. The parliamentary committee will further review the NAB laws,” he said.

To a question about application of the law, Dar said it could not be applied to previous cases.

According to NAB, it recovered Rs6 billion through plea bargains from 2012-2016 and Rs13 billion through voluntary returns. Since its inception, the accountability watchdog has recovered Rs284 billion besides settling 917 cases under plea bargain and around 2,900 cases under voluntary return deals.

(WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM APP)

Courtesy : Express Tribune

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