Govt decides to defer two controversial bills
ISLAMABAD, Nov 17: The government will not present two expected bills — the National Accountability Commission Act and Investigation for Fair Trial Act — till the next session of parliament though it earlier was keen to get them adopted during the ongoing session.
The reason cited by sources in the law ministry on Saturday was a request by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz for time to study the Investigation for Fair Trial Act and to finalise notes of dissent on the proposed accountability law that has already been passed by a standing committee of the National Assembly.
“The decision has been made to defer the bills till the next session scheduled for December on PML-N’s request,” a minister said.
The sources said the government had taken the decision in order to reciprocate the PML-N’s positive response to the two bills during meetings of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice where it had agreed to the need for the ‘fair trial act’. The committee will meet on Monday to review the act on which the PML-N has raised some minor reservations.
According to PML-N’s member of the committee Zahid Hamid, it has completed the first reading of the draft and the opposition has told the government that it wants certain amendments to the bill so that the law could not be misused. “We need further safeguards to minimise chances for the misuse of law and we have already made a number of suggestions, some of which are acceptable to the government,” he said.
The federal cabinet approved the act in September, arguing that it would allow investigation through “modern techniques and devices”.
The bill has become controversial amid criticism from certain quarters that it will pose a serious threat to people’s privacy by authorising the state to tap phone calls and intercept other private communication in order to capture terrorists.
The government claims that “existing laws neither comprehensively provide for nor specifically regulate use of advanced and modern investigative techniques such as covert surveillance and human intelligence, property interference, wire tapping and communication interception that are used extensively in other countries, including the US, UK and India and are an indispensable aid to law enforcement and administration of justice”.
Under the proposed law, emails, SMSs, phone calls and audio-visual recordings will become admissible evidence, while suspects will be held for six months after a warrant issued by a sessions and district judge in his chambers.
A day earlier, the committee approved the National Accountability Commission (NAC) Bill with minor amendments through a majority vote despite the opposition’s reservations.
Mr Hamid said the law minister had promised that the bill would not be put to the vote in the assembly till the opposition members submitted their notes of dissent.
He said the ruling party had rejected almost all of their proposals, leaving no choice for them but to oppose the bill when it would be presented before the National Assembly.
The proposed law, which will repeal the Musharraf-era National Accountability Ordinance of 1999, provides for the establishment of a three-member NAC to be headed by a chairman who has been a judge of the Supreme Court or a federal government officer in basic pay scale BPS-22, a deputy chairman who has been a judge of a high court or a federal government officer in BPS-21 and a prosecutor general who is qualified to be appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court.
The PML-N alleges that the government wants to bring a “toothless” and “lacklustre” accountability law only to protect plunderers.
It was after three years of wrangling that the government tabled the new bill in the assembly on Oct 8, aimed at creating an independent accountability commission that would replace the National Accountability Bureau to prosecute corruption by holders of public offices.