A legislative proposal seeking amendments in the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999, was presented in the Upper House of parliament on Monday. The National Accountability (Amendment) Bill, 2019, seeks amendment in Section 5 of NAO to ensure that only offences of Rs 500 million or more are to be prosecuted by NAB. Amendments in sections 9 and 14 seek to ensure that only persons in possession of wealth, acquired through corrupt, dishonest or illegal means, are prosecuted. The bill seeks to insert new sections 33F and 33G in the NAO, 1999. The newly proposed Section 33F is about restriction on issuance of public statement and says that no official of NAB, in any capacity, shall make any statement in public or to the media regarding persons involved in any inquiry or investigation conducted by the anti-graft watchdog until a reference has been filed against such persons. The proposed Section 33G defines punishment for making public statements. It states that whoever contravenes the provisions of Section 33F shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year but shall not be less than one month in any case and with a fine of Rs 100,000. According to the ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’, check and balances have been introduced by ensuring that no fishing or roving inquiry is possible and material can only be collected which pertains to the investigation or inquiry in question. The bill proposes to empower NAB courts inter alia by giving them powers to grant bail by deletion of Section 9(b) and further giving them authority to issue commons and warrants as well as take bonds for appearance. It is suggested that the presumption of innocence of an accused be restored by deletion of Section 14. The legislative proposal says that checks and balances have been introduced upon NAB chairman’s powers in consonance with due process requirements through appropriate amendments in Section 18 and Section 24. The concept of voluntary return and plea bargain is being brought in line with modern jurisprudence of the superior courts through amendments in Section 25. An amendment in Section 26 is proposed to ensure that approvers in NAB cases are given the same treatment as under the Criminal Procedure Code, 1898, and that the accused is given an opportunity to cross-examine the approver at the time his statement is being recorded. Trade Organisation Bill, 2019, National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA) Act Bill and Pure Food Ordinance, 2013, were also introduced in the Senate. Earlier, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani directed to provide best medical facilities to former president and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari. The PPP had submitted an adjournment motion in the Senate Secretariat against shifting of Asif Zardari to jail from the hospital. The motion was submitted by PPP’s Senator Sherry Rehman. During the session, Sherry Rehman said that they were not allowed to meet the former president, adding that everyone saw whatever happened at the PIMS hospital. She said the government imposes curfew as soon as someone visits hospital to inquire after the health the PPP co-chairman, adding that Aseefa Bhutto was not even allowed to meet her father despite having court orders. She said they are not afraid of accountability but political revenge shouldn’t be taken. Leader of Opposition in Senate Raja Zafarul Haq appealed to the chief justice of Pakistan to take notice of ill treatment of political leaders on one or the pretext by the government. Usman Khan Kakar claimed that the government has imposed ‘Halakoo Khan law’ for the opposition parliamentarians. Responding to opposition’s questions, Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Azam Swati said the PTI didn’t register any case against the opposition leaders, adding that PPP and PML-N had themselves made cases against each other during their tenures. He said the government does not believe in political vengeance, adding that NAB is an independent institution and that government has no influence over its working. The House also witnessed introduction of a private member’s bill seeking increase in number of seats for Balochistan in National Assembly from 16 to 30 and 80 in provincial assembly of Balochistan. The Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2019 (Amendment of Articles 51 and 106) was jointly sponsored by 18 senators hailing from Balcohistan, including Sajjad Hussain Turi, Ahmed Khan, Naseebullah Bazai, Sana Jamali, Manzoor Ahmed, Dr Jehanzeb Jamaldini, Sarfaraz Ahmed Bugti, Dr Ashok Kumar, Muhammad Akram, Sardar Yaqoob Khan Nasar, Usman Kakar, Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, Agha Shahzaib Durrani, Kalsoom Perveen, Sardar Shafiq Tareen, Mir Kabeer Ahmed, Gul Bashra and Abida Azeem. The bill was formally moved in the House by Senator Naseeb Ullah Bazai and was supported by Leader of Opposition Raja Zafar-ul-Haq. As many as eight private members’ bills were introduced in the Senate and all of them were referred to the relevant standing committees for further deliberations on them.