ISLAMABAD - To counter the growing menace of terrorism in the country, the federal cabinet Wednesday approved the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2012, which provides for sentencing individuals providing financial help to terrorists and seizure of their bank accounts.

The cabinet also approved the Investigation for Fair Trial Bill 2012, which allows admission of electronic evidence in the court of law and action against those who use emails and SMSs to harass people. It also aims at preventing the law enforcement and intelligence agencies from using their powers arbitrarily.

The legal draft of making electricity theft punishable by law was also approved by the cabinet, which also approved in principal a bill calling for an increase in minority seats in the national and provincial assemblies. Under this legislation the number of minority seats will increase by four in the National Assembly.

In his opening remarks at the federal cabinet’s meeting, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf said that the coalition government and the Supreme Court both want solution to the problem of implementation of apex court’s verdict in NRO case in accordance with the law and the constitution.

The prime minister said that he appeared personally before the Supreme Court in the contempt case which was a testimony to respect for the law and the courts on his part. He said that the credit for present independent judiciary goes to the PPP also, as it participated in the lawyers’ movement for restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and other judges after they were removed by the Musharraf regime in 2007.

Raja Pervaiz Ashraf reiterated his government’s resolve to confront the challenges of energy shortage and the scourge of terrorism with all available resources of the state, adding that he would like to convey the strong resolve of the government to overcome the challenges being faced by the people of Pakistan.

The PM strongly condemned the recent wave of terrorism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan and said that the government sympathises with all the bereaved families and prays for early recovery of those injured in these cowardly acts of terrorism.

He said that such acts can never deter the government’s resolve to fight the menace of terrorism and culprits of these terrorist acts will be brought to the book. He directed the law enforcement agencies to beef up security and urged the provincial governments to evolve mechanism to counter terrorist acts.

The prime minister also asked the Balochistan government to implement Supreme Court’s verdict in order to improve law and order situation in the province. He assured that the federal government would extend all-out assistance to the provincial government. He vowed that all possible measures would be taken for improvement in law and order situation, not only in Balochistan but throughout the country.

Raja reiterated that the government was committed to resolving all issues including the energy crisis, and sincere efforts were being made to enhance capacity of the power generation plants which would help in meeting future energy demand.

The cabinet was informed that power generation and demand-supply position was improving gradually. It was decided to convene a cabinet meeting shortly with the single item agenda of reviewing the measures taken so far and recommend proposals for further improving the power situation. The cabinet directed the Ministry of Water and Power to make a detailed presentation and apprise the cabinet about the short- and long-term steps taken to eliminate loadshedding.

During the meeting the cabinet considered and accorded approval to the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill, 2012, concerning terrorism financing. It provides for addressing shortcomings relating to the terrorism financing provisions in the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997.

In particular, the Bill strengthens the provisions creating the offence of terrorism financing; covering all aspects of the offence in the light of international standards and provides for more effective measures for law enforcement agencies to investigate the offences. The provisions on freezing, seizing and forfeiture of property involved in the terrorism financing offence have been strengthened to ensure that the funding of the terrorism financing offence is detected and seized after due process of law.

The cabinet also considered the “Investigation for Fair Trial Bill 2012” and gave its approval with certain amendments. The bill provides for investigation for collection of evidence by means of modern techniques and devices to prevent and effectively deal with scheduled offences. It will also provide for admissibility and use of the material collected during investigation under the present law in judicial proceedings and all other legal proceedings or processes to ensure fair trial.

It also aims as regulating the powers of the law enforcement and intelligence agencies and to prevent law enforcement and intelligence agencies from using their powers arbitrarily. It was felt necessary to regulate the said powers and provide for their permissible and fair uses in accordance with law and under proper executive and judicial oversight keeping in view Article 10A of the constitution. The bill was expected to be presented in the National Assembly later the same day for approval.

The cabinet also approved a bill on “Offenses and Penalties relating to Electricity Amendments in the PPC, CrPC and Electricity Act 1910.” The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2012 enumerates offences of dishonest abstraction, illegal interference or tampering with transmission and distribution power systems with penalty of rigorous imprisonment which may extend to three years and fine which may extend to ten million rupees for transmission offences and two years and three million rupees, respectively for distribution offences.

Similarly, offences against improper use, interference or tampering with electric meters by domestic, industrial, commercial and agricultural consumers have been included. The penalties for such offences may extend to one year or fine which may extend to, one million rupees or both in case of domestic consumers, and three years or fine which may extend to six million rupees or both in case of industrial, commercial and agricultural consumers.

Moreover, offences for damaging, destroying or destructing the transmission lines, distribution lines or electric meters have been specified with punishment of up to seven years imprisonment and with fine which shall not be less than three million rupees.

The Ministry of Water and Power is faced with the situation whereby the recoveries affected by the distribution companies from the consumers are insufficient and inadequate to meet the cost of generated electricity. As a result, the government has to provide subsidy especially to those distribution companies where leakages, pilferages and theft are rampant. Primarily, this phenomenon emanates from fragile legal and enforcement structure.

The cabinet considered the report of the committee examining the issue of seats of non-Muslims in the legislature. A number of proposals were made by the members of the cabinet and it was decided that the committee would present its final report to the cabinet in the light of the recommendations made by members of the cabinet.

The cabinet also approved to start negotiations on bilateral MoU on Disaster Management between Republic of Turkey and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), government of Pakistan. Approval was also accorded by the cabinet to start negotiation on MoU on disaster management between government of Sri Lanka and NDMA.

Tougher penalties for terror financers