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NA passes bill to protect ‘whistleblowers’ in corruption cases

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly on Thursday passed a crucial bill aimed at providing protection to whistleblowers in corruption cases.

The bill, titled the Public Interest Disclosures Bill, 2017, was passed by the assembly with a majority vote after presiding officer Mahmood Bashir Virk, who was chairing the session in the absence of both the speaker and the deputy speaker, rejected the opposition’s request that the bill should be sent back to the committee as they had not been provided the copies of the final draft at the time of its passage in the committee.

Interestingly, Mr Virk is also the chairman of the house committee on law and justice which had approved the bill in May.

Highlighting salient features of the bill, Law Minister Zahid Hamid said that the bill had been introduced in line with the PML-N’s manifesto which talks about zero tolerance for corruption. He said the bill was aimed at providing protection to the person who would point out any corruption or wrongdoing in any department or the office.

After passage of the bill, he said, no punitive action could be taken against the person who would point out corrupt practices. This law, he said, was in accordance with international conventions relating to corruption that had also recognised the importance of having a law in place for the protection of persons making public interest disclosures as an effective anti-corruption mechanism.

The Statement of Objects and Reasons attached to the bill states that “persons disclosing information relating to the economic crimes in the public interest (also called whistleblowers) are often subjected to retaliation in the form of discrimination, intimidation, abuse, unjust disciplinary action, including dismissal and even threats of physical harm to them and their families”.

“Protection of persons making such public interest disclosures, by reporting in good faith acts of corruption and other wrongdoing and illegal activities, is integral to efforts to effectively combat corruption, promote public section integrity and accountability and support a clean working environment,” says the bill.

It says the government has zero tolerance for corruption and its elimination is one of its foremost objectives; hence, the protection of persons making public interest disclosures especially in corruption cases is a major concern of the government.

The bill defines the term “disclosure” as a complaint relating to willful misuse of power or willful misuse of discretion by virtue of which substantial loss is caused to the government or substantial wrongful gain accrues to the public servant or to third party; commission of or an attempt to commit an offence of corruption or corrupt practices as defined in the National Accountability Bureau Ordinance, 1999 or any other law relating to corruption and includes the offence committed through electronic mail or device.

Under the proposed law, any person may make a public interest disclosure before the “competent authority”, which can be the respective head of the organisation.

After receiving the complaint, the head of the organisation “shall conduct a preliminary inquiry into the disclosure to ascertain the identity and credibility of the complainant in prescribed manner”.

Under Section 6 of the bill, disclosure cannot be made on a number of matters including those which may affect the sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan; the security, strategic or economic interests of the country and relations with foreign states.

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Azhar Hashmi

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