ISLAMABAD: The joint sitting of the parliament Thursday passed the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2022 and the National Accountability (Second Amendment) Bill, 2022 with a majority vote. The election amendment bill has abolished the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in polls, while the burden of proof would lie with the accuser to prove the charges, instead of the accused, under the amended NAB law.
The joint session of the parliament, while approving the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2022, rejected all 17 amendments proposed by President Arif Alvi. However, the government agreed to an amendment from the president in Article 16 of the National Accountability (Second Amendment) Bill, 2022 while rejecting others.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was also present at the joint session during the passage of the two bills. The joint session considered and passed the two bills which were returned by President Arif Alvi under Article 75 (2) of the Constitution.
It says that when the president has returned the bill to the parliament, it shall be considered by the Parliament in a joint sitting and, it is again passed with or without amendment, by the parliament, it shall be deemed for the purposes to have been passed by both the houses and shall be presented to the president. The Article 75(2) also says that the president shall give his assent within 10 days, failing which such assent shall be deemed to have been given.
Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Murtaza Javed Abbasi told the House on Thursday that the objections raised by the president on the Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2022 are totally meaningless and those carried no weight.
The minister said the incumbent government decided to amend the Elections Act, 2021 in the light of the letter of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) in which the commission expressed reservations over the law and difficulties. “But if still constitutional head of the country (president) expresses reservation over a legislation, then there is a big question mark on it,” he said. He also referred to an objection raised by the president that under Article 46, he was not informed before moving the two bills. He questioned as to how many times, the president was informed by the last government about any bills before moving those in the parliament.
Minister for Law Azam Nazir Tarar said that for executing legislation regarding any matter was prerogative of the parliament. “In this connection, the president who is the constitutional head of the country can only request but cannot direct the parliament in this connection,” he said.
The law minister said the government rejected all amendments coming from the president except for one in Article 16 of the National Accountability (Second Amend) Bill, 2022 in Section 24 of the NAB Ordinance, 1999. He said that it was obvious that the president agreed with 85pc of the National Accountability (Second Amendment) Bill, 2022.
The amendment from President Alvi, which was accepted by the government and approved by the joint sitting, says that NAB chairman may declare or notify any place as police station or sub-jail at his discretion.
As Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan of Jamaat-e-Islami wanted to move amendments to both the bills, the Minister for Law said as per the Constitution, no amendments from any member at this stage could be entertained. He said that only those amendments from the president could be considered.
According to the National Accountability (Second Amendment) Bill, 2021, the Act shall come into force at once and shall be deemed come effective from the date of commencement of the NAB Ordinance. The deputy chairman will be appointed as acting chairman on retirement of the NAB chairman. The power to appoint deputy chairman will be with the federal government. However, in the absence of deputy chairman, the most senior officer of NAB will take over as NAB chairman. The retiring chairman will not be re-appointed for the same post.
The judges of the accountability courts shall be appointed for a period of three years and judge could be removed only after consultation with Chief Justice of the respective high court. The appeal of timing against the verdict of the accountability court has also been increased from 10 to 30 days.
Minister for Law Azam Nazir Tarar while giving details of the amendment bill said the legislation was meant to do away with draconian clauses of the NAB Ordinance due to which public office holders sitting inside and outside the parliament were victimised in the past.
According to an amendment in the NAB Ordinance, 1999, the misuse of authority or mistaken use of authority by any government officer or employee shall not be considered as a crime unless there is evidence against him that he had taken bribe on committed corruption. Similarly, having assets beyond income would also not be crime unless it is proven that a government official committed corruption or he was involved in corrupt practices. There would also not be any media campaign by NAB when it is proven that a person had committed corruption and he would not be arrested if he is not reluctant to join investigation, cooperate with investigation officer and gives an assurance that he is not escaping the country. Under an amendment, the period of custody shall be reduced from 90 to 14 days for purpose of investigations.
According to another amendment, the law shall be enforced to whole of Pakistan and apply to all persons including those who are and have been in service of Pakistan. However, it will not be applicable to transaction pertaining to federal and provincial taxation, funds and loss of exchequer pertaining to taxation. It will also not apply on decisions of federal and provincial cabinets, their committee or sub-committee, Council of Common Interests, National Economic Council, National Finance, ECNEC, Central Development Working Parties, Provincial Development Working Parties and Departmental Development Working Parties, State Bank of Pakistan except in cases where public office holders have gained monetary benefits as a result of decisions. The law would also not apply on any procedural lapse in any government project unless it is proven that any public office holder any person on his behalf had taken monetary benefits. According to the amendment, all pending inquiries, investigations and trials under the NAB ordinance shall stand transferred to the departments concerned under the respective laws.
The Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2022 is meant to do away with amendments by the last regime in Elections (Amendment) Act, 2017 with regard to use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and I-voting. The Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2022 on becoming an Act of Parliament will envisage conducting pilot projects by the Election Commission of Pakistan in by-elections before using I-Voting and Electronic Voting Machines in the general elections.
Under the amendment to Section 94 of the Election Act, 2017, the commission may conduct pilot projects for voting by overseas Pakistanis in by-elections to ascertain the technical efficacy, secrecy, security, and financial feasibility of such voting and shall share the results with the government, which shall, within 15 days from the commencement of a session of a House after the receipt of the report, lay the same before both Houses of the Parliament. Under amendment to Section 103 of the Election Act, 2017, the ECP may conduct pilot projects for utilisation of EVMs and biometric verification system in the by-elections. Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf adjourned the joint sitting of the parliament till afternoon of July 20.