Two critical laws, the Elections (Amendment) Bill 2022 and the National Accountability (Second Amendment) Bill 2021, were passed by the Senate on Friday, a day after they were passed by the National Assembly.
The bills voted by the lower house yesterday aimed to undo reforms made by the previous PTI government to election rules, including the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and i-voting for overseas Pakistanis, as well as limiting the National Accountability Bureau’s extensive powers (NAB).
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Murtaza Javed Abbasi and Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar delivered them to the Senate today, respectively.
The measures were introduced amid speculation about early elections in Pakistan, and a day after PTI chairman Imran Khan unexpectedly concluded his protracted march by giving the government a six-day deadline to announce the poll date.
Only the president’s consent is required for them to become law after receiving approval from both chambers.
Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani inquired whether Abbasi’s Elections (Amendment) Bill 2022 should be sent to the relevant committee amid yells of “no, no” from the opposition.
Tarar stated that the bill had already been approved by the committee. He underlined that Pakistanis living abroad had not been denied the right to vote.
He told the upper house of parliament that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had been asked to safeguard voting rights while maintaining secrecy.
“We will not be able to hold elections [with electronic voting machines], according to the ECP. The Election Commission should ensure that Pakistanis living abroad are able to vote.”
Dr Shahzad Waseem, the Senate Leader of the Opposition, said the opposition will not allow anyone to “rob” abroad Pakistanis of their right to vote or compromise on the use of electronic voting machines.
Senator Shibli Faraz, a former science minister, and former railways minister Azam Swati were also members of the Senate panel that approved the bill, according to Tarar.
Faraz, on the other hand, claimed that the administration was attempting to convey the impression that the measure was acceptable to him by using “mala fide intentions.”
“In the committee [meeting] where the law was reviewed, votes were equal,” he claimed, adding that the Election Commission’s concerns were “simply a piece of paper with no validity.”
The opposition members resumed their sloganeering after Faraz’s response.
Following that, the Senate chairman asked if the bill should be referred to the committee, but the majority of the members said no.
Following that, the Senate enacted the Elections (Amendment) Bill 2022.
Opposition members screamed slogans like “imported government” and “no to NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance)” during the Senate session.
Tarar afterwards introduced the National Accountability (Second Amendment) Bill 2021, which was also passed during the session.
The meeting was postponed until 4 p.m. on Monday.
Laws concerning elections
The ECP may conduct pilot projects for voting by overseas Pakistanis in by-elections under Section 94 of the Election Act of 2017 to determine the technical efficacy, secrecy, security, and financial feasibility of such voting and shall share the results with the government, which shall lay the report before both houses of parliament within 15 days of the commencement of a session after receipt of the report.
The ECP may launch pilot projects to use EVMs and the biometric verification system in by-elections under the amendment to Section 103 of the Election Act.
The National Anti-Bribery Act (NAB)
According to the bill proposing to alter the NAB Ordinance 1999, incumbent NAB chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal will be unable to continue in office because the clause included by the previous government providing him an extension till the selection of his successor has been removed.
Following the completion of the chairman’s term, the bill suggests that the NAB’s deputy chairman, who will be selected by the federal government, will become the acting chairman of the agency.
The bill also reduces the NAB chairman’s and the bureau’s prosecutor general’s terms from four to three years.
NAB will be unable to intervene on federal, provincial, or local tax concerns after the law is passed. Furthermore, the regulatory entities that operate in the country have been removed from the NAB’s jurisdiction.
The provisions of the law will also not apply to “decisions of the federal or provincial cabinet, their committees or sub-committees, Council of Common Interests (CCI), National Economic Council (NEC), National Finance Commission (NFC), Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec), Central Development Working Party (CDWP), State Bank of Pakistan, and such other bodies, except where the holder of the public office has received a monetary gain as a result of such decisions
The law will not apply to “procedural lapses in the performance of any public or government work or function, project or scheme, unless there is evidence to show that a holder of public office or any other person acting on his behalf has been conferred or has received any monetary or other material benefit from that particular public or government work or function, whether directly or indirectly on account of such procedural lapses, which the said recipient otherwise would not have received.”
The measure prohibits NAB officers from making any public statements prior to filing references or throughout the investigation. In the event of a violation, they might face up to a year in prison and a fine of one million rupees.
The measure also suggests that filing a fraudulent reference might result in up to five years in prison.
Judges of the accountability courts will now serve three-year terms under the new law. It will also make it mandatory for courts to reach a decision within a year. The proposed law requires the National Crime Agency (NAB) to ensure that evidence against an accused person is available prior to his or her arrest.
Furthermore, the NAB will be expected to start an inquiry into a complaint within six months and to submit an apprehended person to an accountability court within 24 hours. The bill also takes away the NAB’s ability to keep an accused on a 90-day remand, reducing the duration to 14 days.
It goes on to add that the process of appointing the NAB chairman would begin two months before his term ends and will be finished in 45 days. Following the law’s approval, the “federal government,” rather than the president, will be in charge of appointing the NAB chairman.
If the prime minister and the opposition leader cannot agree on the choice of the NAB chairman, the topic will be brought to a parliamentary committee, which will be appointed by the National Assembly speaker and would have a month to make a decision. Members of the Senate will be represented on the committee as well.
The statute “will be deemed to have taken effect on and from the start of the National Accountability Ordinance 1999,” according to one of the primary revisions.