ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court of Pakistan Wednesday granted three months to the government for legislation regarding the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999.

A three-member bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Gulzar Ahmed, conducted hearing in a suo moto case about the section 25(a) of NAO, 1999.

During the hearing, the top court of the country asked whether Section 25 (a) had been removed or amended.

Advocate Farooq H Naek informed the court that a bill regarding the NAB law is already pending in the Senate committee.

He added that the bill calls for complete omission of Section 25 (a). He maintained, “Once the committee approves it, the bill will then be presented in the Parliament for approval.”

At this, petitioner Asad Kharal apprised the court that the case has been pending for more than three years and has not been decided despite 15 hearings. He said that Section 25 (a) was ineffective since the apex court’s last ruling. “The federal government has formulated new laws through NAB Amendment Ordinance 2019,” he added.

Justice Ahsan noted that the incumbent petition pertained to Section 25 (a). Justice Gulzar Ahmed said that the Supreme Court has already restrained the NAB from plea bargain adding that this clause of the law will not be exercised until the new legislation by the parliament.

The Chief Justice warned that those who returned the corruption money (under the plea bargain) would have to face consequences.

Justice Gulzar remarked that the Attorney General has told the court that Naek has tabled an amendment bill in the NAB law in the Parliament and the political parties are trying to reach to an agreement over the bill.

He said, “If the matter is not resolved in three months the court will decide according to the law and the merit.”

Justice Gulzar stated that the government should not linger on the matter of fresh legislation about the NAB. “Is not it the duty of the Parliament to amend the NAB law?” the top judge questioned.

The court recommended the federal government to address reservations concerning the new ordinance. “The appropriate laws should be passed by the Parliament,” he added.

Former chief justice of Pakistan Anwar Zaheer Jamali in September 2016 had taken suo moto in view of the SC’s two-member bench order passed in Civil Appeal No.82-K of 2015. The court had passed the order that the vires of Section 25(a) of NAO, 1999, authorizing the NAB chairman to accept the offer by a person of voluntary return of money, illegally earned by him, needed to be examined at the touchstone of the Constitution.

“This provision prima facie is in conflict with the provision of Constitution, where such power can only be exercised by a judicial forum as after payment of voluntary return, the person goes scot-free without any stigma on his career and can contest the elections and or can continue in public office, as the section does not provide any disqualification, as against the disqualification provided under Section 25(b) of the NAB Ordinance,” the court ruled.

The court also stated that there was no yardstick provided in the NAB Ordinance and the rules framed determining the amount of voluntary return. It also noted in the verdict that once an accused, who plundered colossal sums of money, deposited a portion of the amount, that too in instalments, he stood discharged from all his liabilities in respect of the transaction and went back to join his job.

The court observed that the provisions of Section 25(a) were not meant to allow corrupt public servants to get a clean chit from NAB authorities by paying a portion of the embezzled money.