ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Monday passed a crucial bill — for exchange of information and criminals with countries — to meet a requirement of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) after the treasury overcame the opposition’s customary resistance in the house.
The opposition parties initially tried to block the passage of the bill by challenging Speaker Asad Qaiser’s ruling on a voice vote allowing Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan to move the bill, but after a 87-83 vote defeat it participated in the process and moved four minor amendments — two of them were even incorporated in the bill.
As soon as the minister took the floor to present the Mutual Legal Assistance (Criminal Matter) Bill 2019, parliamentary leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Syed Naveed Qamar termed the bill against the fundamental rights of the citizens of Pakistan, claiming that after passage of the bill, the government would be able to seek information from foreign countries and extradite its own citizens on the demand of the other countries even without signing a treaty.
Mr Qamar said presently the countries did not entertain any request from the Pakistan government to hand over any wanted person to it because of the perception that cases were filed on a political basis in Pakistan. He said the bill had given “unfettered powers” to the federal interior secretary to seek information about foreign bank accounts and transactions made by any citizen.
Opposition terms bill against fundamental rights of citizens of Pakistan
In the past, he said, such information was shared only with those countries with which they had such agreements or arrangements. He said that while fulfilling the FATF requirements, the government must protect the rights of its citizens.
The parliamentary leader of the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was of the view that by approving the bill, they would be “surrendering” the country’s sovereignty. He alleged that efforts were being made by international financial institutions to colonise countries like Pakistan which were financially dependent on them. “Please do not rush the bill to meet someone’s deadline. Let us debate the matter,” he went on saying while opposing the bill.
PPP’s Abdul Qadir Patel claimed that there was a clause in the bill which allowed the government to hand over individuals to countries even without demand.
Another vocal PPP MNA Shazia Marri pointed out some drastic spelling mistakes in the draft, saying this showed that the bill was being passed in haste.
Besides the parliamentary affairs minister, newly appointed Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar and Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry defended the bill and criticised the opposition for creating unnecessary hurdles in the way of the passage of such an important legislation.
Ali Muhammad Khan said no Pakistani would like to see the country being blacklisted by the FATF. He explained that the main purpose of the bill was to nominate the interior ministry as the focal point as previously a number of ministries and institutions like the foreign ministry and the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (Nacta) were dealing with such matters on their own. Now, he said, no department or institution could make a direct contact with any country without the approval of the interior ministry.
Fawad Chaudhry in his usual style lashed out at the opposition for opposing the bill, alleging that it was the previous two governments which were responsible for putting Pakistan into the FATF trap. He said all the countries shared information on criminal matters under FATF.
Mr Umar said the title of the bill itself suggested that the exchange would take place under mutual understanding. “What fear do you have?” he asked the opposition, adding that it seemed that the opposition wanted that the government should not be able to seek information about the hidden wealth stashed in foreign banks. “Our sovereignty compromises due to money laundering,” he said, adding that even the UK and the UAE had changed their laws and they were going towards transparency.