Joint session passes NAB, election amended bills

| Now NAB deputy chairman can become acting chairman while Pak expats lose vote right under amended election bill

 

ISLAMABAD   –   The joint session of the parliament on Thursday passed ‘The Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2022’, and ‘National Accountability (Amendment) Bill’ with a majority vote.

Both the amended bills were returned by President Arif Alvi seeking amendments to the accountability and election laws, for “consideration and detailed deliberations” by the parliament and its committees.

Members of the opposition from Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) while opposing the amendments proposed the chair to refer these bills to the concerned standing committees for discussion.

Minister for Law Azam Nazeer Tarar, explaining the reasons for legislation on the bills, refused by the President, remarked that these bills would be resent to the President for his assent and in case of refusal the bills within ten days it would be considered as approved. Giving reference of the article 75(2), he argued, “When the president has returned a bill to the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament), it shall be reconsidered by the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) in joint sitting and, if it is again passed, with or without amendment, by the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament), by the votes of the majority, the president shall give his assent within 10 days, failing which such assent shall be deemed to have been given.”

About the accountability bill, the minister said that the NAB law was used for political engineering and the person who was accused had to prove his innocence, as opposed to the teachings of Islam.

The election amendment bill has abolished the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in polls, while the NAB bill has formulated a post-retirement procedure for its chairman, among other changes.

The amendments in the ‘Election (Amendment) Bill 2022’ removed the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in the general elections. According to the amendment [in Section 94 of the Election Act, 2017] in the bill, “the ECP 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 parliament.”

Another amendment in Section 103 of the Election Act, 2017, says “the ECP may conduct pilot projects for the utilisation of Electronic Voting Machines [EVMs] and biometric verification system in the by-elections.”

Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Murtaza Javed Abbasi said, “The proposed amendments would help ensure free, fair, and transparent elections,” he said, mentioning that they had examples of faulty Results Transmission System (RTS) which failed in the last general elections.

According to the amendments to NAB Ordinance, “NAB deputy chairman to become acting chairman following top official’s retirement,” It says, “Process to appoint new chairman to begin two months prior to incumbent’s retirement and completed in 40 days…NAB bound to ensure availability of evidence prior to arrest. Up to five-year imprisonment for filing false reference.”

The process to appoint a new chairman would begin two months prior to the retirement of the incumbent chairman and would be completed in 40 days, according to the bill. If the prime minister and leader of the opposition are unable to agree on an appointee, the matter would be referred to the parliamentary committee.

According to the bill, the parliamentary committee would then finalise the name for a new chairman within 30 days.

Minister for Defence Khwaja Muhammad Asif, responding to the reservations of the opposition, said that both the houses have passed the amendments so there was no need to send it in the parliament. “As per the constitution, there is no standing committee of joint session so the objections are in correct,” he said.

MNA from Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) Ghous Bux Mehar said the objections raised by the President Arif Alvi should be discussed in the parliamentary committee before passage on it.

Senator Mushtaq Ahmed was also of the view that these bills should also be discussed in the parliamentary committees.

President Arif Alvi sought amendments to the accountability and election laws. The president, who belongs to the former ruling party Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), has returned the two crucial bills using his powers under Article 75(1) of the Constitution, according to an official handout issued by the President’s Office.

Article 75(1) states: “When a bill is presented to the president for assent, the president shall, within [ten] days (a) assent to the bill; or (b) in the case of a bill other than a money bill, return the bill to the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) with a message requesting that the bill or any specified provision thereof, be reconsidered and that any amendment specified in the message be considered.”

While returning the two bills to parliament, President Alvi has come out with a detailed reasoning, besides alleging that the government had violated Article 46 of Constitution by not informing him about the legislative proposals before bringing them to parliament. He quoted Article 46 that “the prime minister shall keep the president informed… on all legislative proposals the federal government intends to bring before the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament)”.

The president further observed that the amendments had been passed by the National Assembly and the Senate “in haste and without due diligence”, adding the legislation having far-reaching impact on society should have been discussed in detail in consultation with the legal fraternity and civil society.

Dr Alvi said the court had approved i-voting for utilisation in a pilot project, which was supposed to be a real vote-casting against a mock exercise to empower the overseas Pakistanis to cast their votes during by-elections held after 2018. The president also defended the previous PTI government’s policy of introducing EVMs in the elections.

While dilating on the proposed amendments to the NAO 1999, the president said they shifted the burden of proof to the prosecution, which made the NAB law similar to the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) 1898.

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