ISLAMABAD, Sept 5: The Supreme Court, hearing a case against misuse of accounts of the Intelligence Bureau for political exigencies, observed on Thursday that the court would be on a slippery slope if it held that the funds of the IB were not subject to public audit.
“It will be like a poison for the nation,” observed Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja.
Headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, a three-judge bench had taken up allegations levelled in a news item published in an English daily on March 14 last year that the “govt withdrew millions from Intelligence Bureau’s accounts”. It accused the PPP government of drawing Rs270 million to dislodge the Punjab government in 2008-09.
The newspaper also alleged that former director general of IB Dr Shoaib Suddle confirmed that money had been drawn from IB’s secret funds and that when the officer brought the matter to the notice of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani he kept quiet because of political considerations.
It also accused the PPP government of drawing Rs400m from 1988 to 1990 to buy loyalty of parliamentarians to defeat a ‘no-confidence’ motion, to win Azad Kashmir elections and to remove the then NWFP government to install Aftab Sherpao as chief minister.
On Thursday, the apex court discussed at length the question whether the funds as well as expenditures of the IB should be subject to audit by the auditor general under Articles 169 and 170(2) of the constitution.
Article 169 empowers the auditor general to perform functions as determined by parliament and until so determined by an order of the president.
Article 170(2) deals with powers of the auditor general to determine the extent and nature of audit of accounts of federal and provincial governments and the bodies functioning under them.
Highlighting the difficulty, Attorney General Muneer A. Malik explained that the process of audit of sensitive accounts dealing with security sometimes revealed more than it should. Some of the expenditures on the country’s security were unverifiable in their very inherent nature, he said.
Mr Malik insisted that the word ‘audit’ had nowhere been defined in the constitution though described in accounting books and thus susceptible to many meanings. The audit does not mean accounts-keeping rather it determines the fairness of funds.
Referring to an old practice, he argued that before the passage of the 18th Amendment the dispersing officer under whose command such funds were available used to give affidavits that funds were utilised in the best interest of the nation. But now the auditor general has to determine the extent and scope of the audit.
The attorney general also cited the report submitted by the financial adviser to the cabinet, Arshad Ahmed, denying the allegations levelled in the news item and justifying that the amount in question was actually
meant for security and utilised for intelligence-gathering purpose in Balochistan and Fata and anti-terrorist operations as well as for maintenance of law and order in Karachi.
But Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja emphasised the need of drawing a distinction between audit of state departments and secrecy, adding that the court had to follow the constitution.
The auditor general could not abdicate his role of auditing every single penny spent of this poor country, the judge said.
The audit of accounts of sensitive departments never undermined security of the state, rather it actually enhanced it, he observed.
Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, however, said he feared that going into the nitty-gritty of the expenses made for security reasons would be like committing suicide.
He also questioned whether the intelligence agencies should be disclosing how much money they spent on subversive activities in neighbouring countries.
The chief justice observed that the court was not against security and the strengthening of the nation rather it would be in the forefront for this cause. But the only thing the court was interested to know whether or not things should be under the discipline of the constitution.
There is no discipline when security of the country is concerned, replied the attorney general.
The court, however, asked former director general of IB retired Colonel Iqbal Niazi and Major Jadoon of the IB to submit their points of view in writing in a sealed envelop.
Col Niazi had denied the contents of the news item, but offered to divulge actual utilisation of the funds in camera.