ISLAMABAD, May 22: The Supreme Court dealt on Wednesday a telling blow to the interim government for its bulk transfers/postings and shuffling of top government officials by suspending all appointments perceived to be done outside its mandate.
At the same time a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry had a word of caution for the incoming PML-N government and asked it to ensure highest standards of transparency in appointments if it wanted to avoid court’s interference.
Not only the petitioner, the order noted, but Law Minister Ahmer Bilal Soofi had also objected to the recent transfers and postings. But it explained that except the transfers necessitated for holding free and fair elections and running the day-to-day affairs all appointments stood suspended.
Any aggrieved officer will have the right to approach the proper forum for redressal of his grievance, the order said. It also ordered the caretakers not to repeat the practice till the pendency of the case.
The bench had taken up a petition moved by PML-N leader Khawaja Mohammad Asif challenging en-bloc transfers/postings and shuffling of top government officials by the interim government. In addition to the present petition similar challenges against related appoints are also pending before the apex court.
“You have taken a double-edged sword by challenging the appointments made by the caretaker government,” the chief justice observed while pointing towards MNA-elect Khawaja Asif also asking the government-in-waiting to follow and maintaining highest standards of transparency and merit for appointments to avoid the interference by the court.
The practice of appointment of cronies, favourites and relatives should be discouraged as such this had been the cause of dispute during the past five years, the chief justice observed, adding it seemed that the interim government had not followed due process while making these transfer/postings.
The court held that it would decide the mater after hearing the respondent federal government through the cabinet secretary and Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso.
The next date of hearing is June 4.
Attorney General Irfan Qadir said he would be needing instructions from the government about the factual position on the appointments and what process had been followed, but argued that the interim government was not barred from making appointments and postings to run day-to-day affairs of the state and to meet any eventuality till the new government took over.
The petitioner, Khawaja Asif, had cited a number of recent transfers, postings or reshuffling – the Chairman of the National Highway Authority, Hamid Ali Khan, was replaced on May 16 by Sajjad Hussain Baloch; the Nepra chairman was replaced by retired Justice Ahmad Khan Lashari; SNGPL Managing Director Arif Hameed was replaced by Amin Tufail; SSGCL’s managing director was replaced by Rahat Kamal Siddiqui; Managing Director of the Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation Khalid Khokhar was replaced by Saifullah Khan.
Similarly, National Fertiliser’s Chairman Rizwan Mumtaz Ali was removed on May 9; Oil and Gas Development Corporation’s Managing Director Masood Siddiqui was removed on May 6; the State Life Corporation’s chairman was removed on May 16; the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation’s chairman reported to have been removed; the Pakistan Software Export Board’s chairman was removed and Saleem Ahmed Ranjha, who was directly inducted by former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, was appointed.
The FIA’s director general, who was appointed one month ago, is also reported to be in the process of being replaced, the petition said. Certain employees/officers of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority are reported to have been removed without following the procedure set in the relevant statute.
Several other mid-level staff of corporations/ bodies have been shuffled/transferred/ removed, the petition alleged.
When asked by the court why he was filing the petition when the incoming government could annul these appointments through an executive order, Khawaja Asif replied that the appointed persons if removed may claim their rights and a cycle of litigation would follow.
In his petition, Khawaja Asif argued that the acts of the caretaker government amounted to abuse of power and against norms.