Zubair Qureshi Islamabad
A day after returning Election Amendment bill without signing, President Dr Arif Alvi on Monday sent another the National Accountability (Amendment) Bill, 2022 back to the Prime Minister’s Office without signing and stated that he believe the bill, as passed by the parliament, was regressive in nature, and would promote corruption by ensuring that the long arm of the law is crippled
President Alvi in his statement said that the bill also sent a message to the corrupt, who had amassed tremendous wealth and about which there is no doubt in the minds of the people, that they were not accountable and are free to continue to plunder
The president regretted that the common man was caught for petty crimes while the corrupt rich would remain free to continue with their blood-sucking abhorrent practices. Having weak accountability is against the basic rights of the people of Pakistan who are the suffering masses, and, therefore, it is also against the fundamentals of our Constitution, he added
The president while giving justification for returning the bill unsigned said he was aware of the fact, in view of the ‘deeming’ provision under Article 75 (2) of the Constitution of Pakistan, that the National Accountability (Amendment) Bill, 2022 will be enacted into law even if the President of Pakistan does not sign the bill
While elaborating his reasons for not signing the bill, the president said that the world has struggled to control white-collar crime. Black money, acquired through tax evasion or through other avenues of crime and corruption, especially by politically exposed persons, does not leave easy tracks or a trail that can be followed. The exercise undertaken under FATF itself is an example of decades-long efforts to block all avenues of money laundering.
The president further said that we should take inspiration from Islam and referred to an incident frequently quoted as of Caliph Hazrat Umar RA, who was asked to explain how he acquired two pieces of cloth used in the cloak he was wearing, instead of the one everybody was given. And because he had it in his possession, he explained the source. The president said that this incident laid down two fundamental principles of accountability; one, that the onus of the prosecution or the accuser was to make sure that the item, in this case, an extra piece of cloth, was in the possession of the person (Hazrat Umar RA), and second, that the onus to justify the source of the item (wealth) was upon the accused.
While further elaborating, the president said that the principle of justice for all crimes is that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The exception is that the accused must present a money trail, for example, where and how did he get an extra piece of cloth, any property, or wealth that is in his possession. This is similar to the case when an instrument of crime, for example, a gun is found in the possession of an accused; he must explain how he acquired it. This principle was embodied in the NAB Ordinance. The onus of the prosecution was to prove possession and that of the accused was to show the money trail. The possession of unexplained wealth was a crime in Pakistan until these amendments which have diluted the concept, making it substantially ineffective, he added. Dr Alvi said that as has been observed by the Superior Judiciary, reflecting the general perceptions, that unfortunately, there were flaws in the implementation of the NAB Ordinance. This law, like all other laws vesting authority in the executive, was abused for political exigencies by those in power. Because of this reason, along with the role of vested interests, the accountability process in Pakistan became quite ineffective. While the public clamoured for the return of looted wealth, the long judicial processes involved and ineffective prosecution actually made it very difficult to expose, prevent and eliminate corruption. He said that he believed a strong effort for improvement was desperately needed. Our experiences of the last few decades should have guided us; to modify the law; avoid its miscarriage; close the glaring loopholes, and make it stronger. What was least expected was that the efforts of some previous governments were dumped and the principle of accountability, though upheld, was weakened beyond recognition.
It is unfortunate that enactment of these amendments was like demolishing the process of accountability without an alternate system being in place, making it sterile and allowing extractive institutions and practices to prosper. Weak laws, such as this one, create a facade of justice that blatantly hides a corrupt elite capture, and nations that accommodate such laws ensure very damaging exploitation of the common man perpetuating an unjust society.
The president reiterated that he personally followed, upheld and abided by the Constitution of Pakistan. “We must act upon the injunctions of the Quran and Sunnah.