Cabinet ignores criticism, okays eight ordinances

ISLAMABAD: Despite facing criticism for “bypassing the parliament and relying on presidential ordinances for legislation”, the federal cabinet on Tuesday approved more than half a dozen ordinances, majority of which deal with the judiciary and one specifically relates to amending the NAB Ordinance that may affect high-profile political prisoners in the country.

The cabinet meeting, which was chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, formally approved an agreement between Pakistan and India for implementation of Kartarpur Corridor project.

In all, the cabinet approved eight ordinances.

The cabinet also approved a proposal to allow setting up of solar power plants on a “build, operate and transfer basis” to meet energy requirements of the army, according to an official handout. The cabinet members were told that a large share of army resources was spent on supply of uninterrupted electricity to garrisons, military hospitals and sensitive installations.

Minister rejects impression that NAB law is being amended to target jailed opposition leaders

The official handout also quoted the prime minister as telling the cabinet ministers that the Supreme Court would be asked to review its decision about the condition of advertisement for appointment on honorary posts in policy boards.

In order to bring transparency in governance, the cabinet decided to provide all information about its decisions to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on its request.

Briefing reporters after the cabinet meeting, Law Minister Barrister Farogh Naseem and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan blamed the opposition parties for compelling the government to opt for presidential ordinances for legislation.

The law minister termed it a defining moment for Pakistan, saying that the cabinet approved eight laws of public interest.

The ordinances, which received green signal from the cabinet, included the Letter of Administration and Succession Certificates Ordinance 2019; the Enforcement of Women’s Property Rights Ordinance 2019; the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) (Amendment) Ordinance 2019; the Superior Courts (Court Dress and Mode of Address) Order (Repeal) Ordinance 2019; the National Accountability (Amendment) Ordinance 2019; the Legal Aid and Justice Authority Ordinance 2019 and Whistle-Blowers Act.

The most significant ordinance which got the cabinet’s nod was the one seeking an amendment to the NAB Ordinance under which those facing charges of corruption worth Rs50 million or more would only be entitled to be kept in ‘C-Class’ prisons.

Responding to a question, the minister refuted the impression that the ordinance was person-specific and was being introduced only to directly target the opposition party leaders who were in NAB’s custody.

The law minister said after the promulgation of these ordinances, the government would get an “eight-month window” and the “efficacy” of these laws would be before everyone after that period. Then the media and the people would start exposing the opposition parties, he added.

He accused the opposition of “blackmailing” the government in the Parliament due to its numerical majority in the Senate. He expressed the hope that the ruling coalition parties would get a clear majority in the upper house in the March 2021 Senate elections.

About the ordinances, the minister said an amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) would ensure speedy and expeditious justice, which was “the only way forward to change the status quo”, he added.

Through another ordinance, he said, the government provided protection to the whistleblowers exposing corruption. The whistleblowers would also get 20 per cent share in the amount recovered from the culprits, the law minister said.

He said the Letter of Administration and Succession Certificates Ordinance provided a mechanism for issuance of succession certificates by the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), which would reduce burden on courts.

According to him, the Enforcement of Women’s Property Rights Ordinance guarantees right of ownership to women in inheritance. The bill aims at preventing the family members from denying this right to women through “coercion, fraud, fabrication, forgery and cheating”.

The Legal Aid and Justice Authority Ordinance seeks establishment of a legal and institutional framework to promote access to justice by providing affordable, accessible, sustainable, credible and accountable legal aid, financial or other services to the poor and vulnerable sections of society in criminal cases. The bill gives priority to disadvantaged women and children, especially in matters of sexual offences, saying that it is a constitutional right of citizens to consult and engage a lawyer to defend themselves.

Dr Awan told Dawn after the briefing that the issue of the opposition’s Azadi March came under discussion at the cabinet meeting, but claimed that no strategy was finalised in it. She said the government would finalise a strategy when it would come to know about the actual plan. She said first let the opposition leaders themselves decide whether they want to hold a sit-in, a public meeting or just a march.

She said the prime minister and the cabinet members expressed their concern over the fact that the Kashmir issue had been overshadowed by the media coverage of opposition’s protest march.

She also accused the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of politicising former premier’s heath condition. She alleged Mr Sharif waited for party workers carrying “flags, tyres and petrol” to gather before agreeing to move to the hospital.

Dr Awan also criticised the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) for allegedly preparing its “militant” wing for the upcoming march. She said footage showing uniformed JUI-F workers carrying sticks had damaged Pakistan’s image at a time when the country was fighting its case at the FATF.

She said the federal cabinet also approved an agreement between the housing ministry and Akhuwat Islamic Microfinance to build five million units for low-income people. She said Rs5 billion would be spent on giving interest-free loans of Rs100,000 to Rs1 million to the people.

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