Usman Buzdar, dhief minister of Punjab, Pakistan. Photo: Twitter

The Punjab Overseas Pakistani Commission (OPC) has finally decided to revise its enabling act of 2014. The new draft was forwarded to Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar this week for final approval. Several legal limitations warranted change in this act.

The mission of the OPC was to protect the land and revenue of overseas Pakistanis against illegal possession. It comes into play when Pakistanis living outside the country register a complaint that their land or money has been grabbed by acquaintances, family members or any other person through fraud. The OPC helps to restore the proprietorship of the petitioner for the land and also helps him get back any money that has been deceptively taken from him.

The OPC was formulated in 2015 and it has received around 18,000 applications to date. The applications were mainly related to land grabbing and double-dealing with respect to land or property. The OPC scrutinized all applications and found 10,000 valid complaints. Working on these complaints, it helped around 5,000 overseas Pakistanis get back the proprietorship of their land or money. According to rough estimates, the total value of assets restored by the OPC is around 33 billion Pakistani rupees (US$236 million).

That was all fine, but the problem appeared when those accused moved to the courts for their defense. They pleaded that the OPC was oppressing them baselessly and insisted that taking action against them did come under the jurisdiction of the OPC. The courts then forbade the OPC from further actions and thus halted its performance, and consequently the process of relief for overseas Pakistanis.

But that was only one part of the problem. Another was that some Pakistanis living abroad filed false complaints with the OPC. A few of them, upon finding a platform to register complaints, tried to misuse it by making false allegations against their relatives or other people in Pakistan by saying that they had wrongly taken possession of their assets. Upon scrutiny by the OPC, out of the 18,000 applications, nearly 5,000 complaints were found to be bogus.

According to the current law, the OPC can neither intervene after a court forbids it to proceed in a case nor can it take any action against a false complainant.

After the implementation of the amendments, upon receipt of an application, the OPC will scrutinize it for authenticity. Until it verifies the application, the accused person may not consult the courts on the matter. Furthermore, if the OPC finds that the applicant is making false allegations, it will have the right to prosecute the petitioner. Petitioners filing false applications may be punished with imprisonment for as long as three years, and the OPC may also ask the country where the petitioner resides to take appropriate action against him.

Speaking to Asia Times, OPC director general Usman Anwar said, “I believe that [the] amendments in Act 2014 will produce remarkable results. By these, overseas Pakistanis would know that they cannot trap someone without reason. And if they do so they’ll be punished strictly and may face imprisonment too. Similarly, those who double-deal will be aware that they cannot further hide themselves behind the court orders.”

Many overseas Pakistani opt not to send money or savings back home for fear that it may be clutched by someone there illicitly. Now that the Punjab government has offered them a platform in the form of the OPC that is responsible for protecting their rights to their capital, land, and other assets; overseas Pakistanis should refrain from making false allegations. Such bogus allegations won’t help them anyway but will just complicate the process of investigation and relief for genuine complainants – and could end up getting themselves in big trouble to boot.

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