ISLAMABAD: Despite severe universal denunciation and rejection of the plea bargain facility in the wake of a high-profile transaction, a question that circulates in many minds is as to who will bell the cat — amend the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999 to scrap this clause.
Everybody who is anybody across the political spectrum is decrying this specific luxury available to the proven and confessed corrupt and demands its erasure. But none has come out with a precise draft to change the NAO to do away with the provision.
At the same time, nobody has taken on the architect of this law — Pervez Musharraf — the way he deserved. The military dictator had included section 25 in the NAO to let the unscrupulous element commit corruption and go scot-free after shelling out a part of ill-gotten money.
During Musharraf’s era and even later, the NAB has been taking pride in talking about hundreds of billions of rupees recovered from the corrupt through plea bargain or voluntary return deals.
The instant plea bargain accord relating to former Balochistan finance secretary Mushtaq Raisani was not the first and would not be the last case till the time the relevant clause stays on the statute book.
Considering the high-sounding condemnation of the facility, one parliamentary party or the other was required to formulate the draft amendment by now, but nothing of this sort has happened. The preference is on making public statements, dismissing the particular provision rather than doing some credible homework to dispense with the despicable section.
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is in the forefront in attacking this clause, but it made not even a slight attempt to undo it during its five-year rule. The protracted talks between it and the then opposition on replacing the NAO with a new law had remained deadlocked due to lack of sincerity on both sides.
In the condemnatory chorus, the NAB has also been bashed, but the anti-graft agency is hardly at fault because it has to act under the law in vogue. It is in no position to circumvent or amend the NAO. It is for the parliament to change it the way it likes. So, the responsibility lies with the parliamentary parties not with the NAB.
A major difference in the treatment meted out to those availing the voluntary return and plea bargain is that the first set of people pays back the agreed amount and goes back to their official positions if they are civil servants and face no disqualification to hold or to be elected to a public office.
In the case of plea bargain, the accused stands dismissed from government service and disqualified to hold public office for a period of ten years. According to section 15, any accused person who has availed the benefit of plea bargain shall be deemed to have been convicted for an offence under the NAO, and shall forthwith cease to hold public office, if any, held by him and shall stand disqualified for a period of ten years, to be reckoned from the date he has discharged his liabilities relating to the matter or transaction in issue, for seeking or from being elected, chosen, appointed or nominated as a member or representative of any public body or any statutory or local authority or in service of Pakistan or of any province.
In dealing with the plea bargain offer, the NAB chairman has the discretion to accept the proposal from the accused or not.
Under section 25, where a holder of public office or any other person, prior to the authorization of investigation against him, voluntarily comes forward and offers to return the assets or gains acquired or made by him in the course, or as the consequence of any offence under the NAO, the NAB chairman may accept such offer and after determination of the amount due from such person and its deposit with the NAB discharge such person from all his liability in respect of the matter or transaction in issue provided that the matter is not sub judice in any court of law.
Where at any time after the authorization of investigation, before or after the commencement of the trial or during the pendency of appeal, the accused offers to return to the NAB the assets or gains acquired or made by him in the course, or as a consequence of any offence under the NAO, the NAB chief, may, in his discretion, after taking into consideration the facts and circumstances of the case, accept the offer on such terms and conditions as he may consider necessary, and if the accused agrees to return to the NAB the amount determined by the chairman, the NAB chief shall refer the case for the approval of the court, or as the case may be, the appellate court and for the release of the accused.
The amount deposited by the accused with the NAB shall be transferred to the federal government or, as the case may be, a provincial government or the concerned bank or financial institution, company, body corporate, cooperative society, statutory body, or authority concerned within one month from the date of such deposit.