ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Thursday passed a crucial proposed law namely The Public Interest Disclosure Bill 2017. The bill was passed with a majority vote despite reservations stated by some opposition lawmakers.

The Public Interest Disclosure Bill, 2017 tackles certain contemporary issues related to modern-day economic crimes, including money-laundering, fraud, embezzlement, kickbacks, commission and other forms of corruption and corrupt practices which have become increasingly complex and therefore difficult to investigate and prosecute.

The bill was passed by the assembly with a majority vote after presiding officer Mahmood Bashir Virk, who was chairing the session in the absence of both the speaker and the deputy speaker, rejected the opposition’s request that the bill should be sent back to the committee as they had not been provided the copies of the final draft at the time of its passage in the committee.

Interestingly, Mr Virk is also the chairman of the house committee on law and justice which had approved the bill in May.

The bill states that persons called whistle-blowers who disclose information relating to crimes for public interest often are subjected to retaliation in the form of discrimination, intimidation, abuse, unjust disciplinary action, and even threats of physical harm to them and their families.”

The objects and reasons of the bill emphasize on the importance of such persons and stressed that the protection of these people who have reported wrongdoings in good acts of faith should be of vital importance. Their security is integral to the fight against corruption, to promote public section integrity and accountability and to support a clean working environment.

Highlighting salient features of the bill, Law Minister Zahid Hamid said that the bill had been introduced in line with the PML-N’s manifesto which talks about zero tolerance for corruption.

“The government has zero tolerance for corruption and its elimination is one of its foremost objectives; hence the protection of persons making public interest disclosures especially in corruption cases, is a major concern of the government,” the bill further stated.

The term disclosure was defined in the bill as an act of willfully misusing power or willfully misusing discretion because of which considerable loss is caused to the government or substantial wrongful gain accrues to the public servant or third party. Furthermore it is the revealing of a commission of or an attempt to commit an offence of corruption or corrupt practice as defined in the NAB Ordinance 1999 or any other offence committed through electronic mail or device.

The proposed bill allows disclosure to be made by any person before a competent authority if it is in public interest.

However under section 6 of the bill, disclosure on the matters that affect sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan; the security, strategic or economic interests of the country and relations with foreign states is prohibited.

The ‘note of dissent’ from opposition parliamentarians was also attached with the copy of the bill.