The federal government has decided to amend Section 25-A of the National Accountability Ordinance 1999, following which permission of the court would be necessary to strike any deal for voluntary return or plea bargain.

Any person found involved in corrupt practices would be banned for life from holding any public or government office, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar announced at a press conference on Saturday alongside Law Minister Zahid Hamid, IT Minister Anusha Rehman, and Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Law, Barrister Zafar Ullah.

Earlier, persons striking plea bargain were disqualified from holding public or government office for ten years but this law would ensure lifetime ban of corrupt elements, said the finance minister.

Dar said there had been specific observations for a long time about Section 25-A (Voluntary Return and Plea Bargain) and the Supreme Court had also asked the Attorney General about the government’s stance on the issue.

He said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had assigned the task to review this law and the Cabinet’s approval has also been obtained to change the existing law.

“Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has approved the proposal to impose a lifetime ban on convicts of corruption from holding a public or government office,” Dar told the news conference.

“An amendment in Article 25-A of the National Accountability Bureau Ordinance has been proposed to this effect through an ordinance, which will be issued tonight,” he said

The ordinance was issued by a presidential order on Saturday, the new law would take effect with immediate effect. After approval from the National Assembly, it will become an act of parliament.

The finance minister said the amendment in the NAB ordinance will be tabled in the Senate on Monday. He, however, clarified the amendment would not be applicable to past cases.

The existing Section 25-A says where a “holder of public office or any other person prior to the authorisation 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 this Ordinance, the Chairman NAB 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”.

The minister said that amendment in the existing laws would also seek prior approval of court before any such deal.

He said that a convicted corrupt person would also have to face a lifetime ban to hold any public or government office.

The government is very sincere in eliminating corruption following which the Ordinance is being promulgated in this regard, he said.

“It would have taken time if this legislation was enacted through a bill,” he said, adding that the government decided to promulgate an ordinance for immediate and effective action against corrupt elements.

Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid said that, under the proposed amendment, discrimination between voluntary return and plea bargain will now end. “Now an approval to enter into plea bargain would be required by a court of law, not by the NAB chief,” he elaborated.

Hamid said that a 20-member parliamentary committee has also been constituted to revisit the NAB Ordinance 1999 and propose its recommendations.

The committee will hold its first meeting on Monday to elect its chairman, he added.

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