ISLAMABAD (INN) – President Dr Arif Alvi has returned the National Accountability (Amendment) Bill 2022 unsigned to the Prime Minister’s Office.
While stating that he believes the bill, as passed by the Parliament, is regressive in nature and it will promote corruption by ensuring that the long arm of the law is crippled.
The president said that the bill also sends a message to the corrupt, who have amassed tremendous wealth and about which there is no doubt in the minds of the people of Pakistan that they are not accountable and are free to continue to plunder.
Dr Alvi lamented that the small man will be caught for petty crimes while the corrupt rich will 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 said that he is 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. He said that 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.
President Arif Alvi said that this is where 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, he 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.
The president 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 the he believes that 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.
The president said that it was sad that rather than structurally improving the institution, the enactment of these amendments is 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 follows, upholds and abides by the Constitution of Pakistan. We must act upon the injunctions of the Quran and Sunnah, and above all, I am answerable to Allah and ask for His forgiveness. Therefore, he painfully states, that my conscience does not allow me to sign this Bill.