NA passes Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Bill 2016

Opposition stages walkout from assembly

ISLAMABAD: The government on Wednesday managed to complete the quorum in the National Assembly for the passage of ‘The Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Bill 2016’ in presence of a single opposition member in the House.

After the government’s failure to complete the quorum for three consecutive working days, the National Assembly’s session, which was to end on Tuesday, was extended for a day (till Wednesday) for the passage of the bill.

The opposition members, who earlier had left the House silently, returned to proceedings and staged a boycott as protest against the passage of the bill. “You have faced a lot of embarrassment during the last week for not completing the quorum,” Ejaz Jakhrani of PPP and other opposition members said adding the government members were taking the House seriously.

The Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Bill 2016 is aimed at setting up fact-finding commissions on a number of important national issues in the past with greater powers.It provides for the constitution of what the government claims a powerful commission for investigation into various issues, including the Panama Papers.

The law minister, prior to the passage of the bill, said the scope of this commission bill would be wider and it would have all the authority to constitute special teams of experts as well as international teams to get the required information.

“The commission will have powers equal to high court to initiate contempt proceedings against anyone defying the commission’s orders, or maligning and scandalising it,” he said.Prior to the passage of the bill, the opposition members silently left the House except Shazia Marri who pointed out the lack of quorum.

After a count, the Speaker declared the House in order. However, the sole opposition member challenged the counting result.On that, the Speaker ordered to lock the doors of the hall and offered Shazia Marri to herself do the counting.

According to the proposed legislation, the federal government shall by notification constitute a Commission of Inquiry in accordance with provision of the Act. “It is desirable that new law be enacted enabling the government to confer additional powers on a Commission of Inquiry where the nature of the issue is being inquired into so requires,” the statement of objects and reasons of the proposed legislation said.

The existing law relating to appointment of Commissions of Inquiry and empower them for the purpose is the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act, 1956. The commission under the proposed law shall conduct the inquiry and perform its functions in accordance with the Terms of Reference given in the notification.

The commission shall have powers of summoning and enforcing the attendance of any person and examining him on oath and requiring the discovery and production of any documents. The commission shall have the powers to order police investigation and shall have the same powers as that of a high court to punish any person who abuses, interferes with or obstructs the process of commission any way or disobeys any order of the commission.

The commission can also initiate contempt of court proceedings if any person scandalizes the commission or otherwise does anything which tends to bring the commission or a member of the commission in relation to his office into hatred, ridicule or contempt.

If the chairperson of the commission is a judge of the Supreme Court, the commission shall have the powers of the Supreme Court for the purpose of punishment for contempt.

The government by notification can also confer additional powers to commission which all powers of the criminal court, power to constitute an international team and seek international cooperation from foreign countries or agencies to get information, documents, evidence and record or issue letters.

Any proceeding before the commission shall be deemed to be a judicial proceeding within the meaning of sections 193 and 228 of PPC. According to the bill, the final report or an interim report shall be made public provided that the commission may recommend to the federal government that all or any part of the final report or any interim report may not be made public.