NA passes Official Secrets Amendment Bill, 2023 in a hurry

ISLAMABAD  -  As a plethora of bills approving in the parliament every day, the coalition government yesterday passed anoth­er important bill - the Official Secrets Amendment Bill 2023.

The bill, presented as a supplemen­tary agenda item by the Feder­al Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, moved by Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Murta­za Javed Abbasi in the Nation­al Assembly. According to the statement of objects and rea­sons of the bill, it is imperative to amend the official Secrets Act 1923 and make it more ef­fective in view of the changing social milieu to ensure safety and security of official docu­ments. According to a new in­sertion 2 (A) in Section 11 of the Official Secret Act, 1923, “nothwithstanding anything contained in this Act or in any other law for the time be­ing in future, the Intelligence Agencies, may at any time, en­ter and person or place, with­out warrant, and if necessary, by use of force and seize any document, sketch, plan, mod­el, article, note, weapon, am­munition, electronic or mod­ern device or anything of like nature, or anything which is or can be evidence of any of­fence committed, or suspect­ing of been committed under this Act.”

Another important insertion says that under this Act, “the Investigation Officer shall be an officer of the FIA not below the rank of BPS-17 or equiva­lent and he shall be designated by Director General FIA. If Di­rector General FIA deems nec­essary, he may appoint Joint Investigation Team consisting of officers of intelligence agen­cies as he may appoint.”

According to the bill, the JIT will complete its inquiry with­in 30 days. The case relating to civil espionage will be investi­gated by FIA or JIT. However, according to an amendment in clause-B of Section 12, the punishment for an offence has been reduced from 14 to 10 years. Other bills - Toshakhana (Management and Regulation) Bill, 2023 and the Pakistan Airports Authority Bill, 2023 have already been passed by the Senate. The Toshakha­na Management and Regula­tion Bill 2023 passed by the house envisaged that the ex­isting and future gifts to be re­ceived in Toshakhana shall be disposed of through an open auction. The proceeds of such an auction shall be kept in a separate account and will be utilized for promoting female primary education in the most backward areas of the country.

“The public office holders in­cluding Prime Minister, Chief Ministers, Federal Ministers, other cabinet members, gov­ernment officers will have to deposit gifts with Toshakhana within 30 days,” it says.

Three private members’ bills passed by the House included the Promotion and Protection of Gandhara Culture Authority Bill, 2023; the Margalla Inter­national University Bill, 2023 and the Thar International In­stitute Bill, 2023. All these bills were sponsored by MNA Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani.

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