LAHORE: The whereabouts of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer became a subject of wild speculations in the province on Wednesday after sources in the provincial government said he had been ‘missing from the system for the past 72 hours’.
Sources alleged that Mr Taseer “had been abroad since Monday” without having informed the “provincial government or his constitutional successor, the speaker of provincial assembly”.
Speaking on the floor of the assembly, Law Minister Rana Sanaullah claimed that the “governor had slipped to Dubai and was on his way back because the media had noted his absence and the related constitutional questions”.
A spokesperson for the Governor’s House was quick to deny the minister’s claim. “The Governor is on a private visit to Sukkur and will return to Lahore on Wednesday evening after a short stay in Karachi,” he said. \
But, the law minister reiterated his claim and said that he had checked with the district coordination officer (DCO) of Sukkur, who expressed his ignorance about the presence of Mr Taseer in his district. “To the best of my knowledge, the Punjab Governor has been in Dubai,” he said.
Media reports and official ‘confirmation’ of “governor having gone missing” prompted Speaker Rana Mohammad Iqbal to suspend the proceedings of the house. He handed over the charge to Deputy Speaker Rana Mashhood. After the 18th Amendment, the speaker becomes acting governor in the absence of the governor and he cannot preside over assembly proceedings.
Earlier, speaking in the house and later to the media outside the assembly hall, Rana Sanaullah promised that the “provincial government would conduct an inquiry to ascertain why the cabinet secretary did not notify that the governor had gone abroad and why he did not inform the speaker”. “We would also find out if the cabinet secretary was aware of the governor’s plans or he was also kept in the dark. It is a violation of the constitution and has some serious consequences.”
Talking to Dawn, some provincial legislators expressed the view that the entire business of the assembly for 72 hours stood infractuous because the governor being an integral part of the legislative process was missing. The legislative business also became a subject of legal debate as the assembly proceeding were presided over by a man (Speaker Rana Iqbal), who should not have been doing that.
Some of them even claimed that the matter could cast aspersions on the working of the provincial government because it had been “without its constitutional head for almost three days”.
About the governor’s absence, Justice (retd) Wajihuddin said it was a “violation of the Constitution, and could, rather should, lead to the removal of the governor”.
Talking to Dawn, he said: “I am not sure about effects on the working of the Punjab government that was also without its constitutional head, but legislative business carried out during this time has certainly come under the clouds. A constitutional limbo was created in the province for sure.”
Eminent constitutional expert S.M. Zafar was of the opinion that Article 104 stood totally violated, with the post of the constitutional head becoming vacant for a certain period of time. The legislative business, however, should not get affected as the speaker did not assume charge of governor and his speakership remained unaffected. According to the constitution, the speaker ought to have been informed and given the charge, he added.
The governor was not in Lahore by the time this report was filed. The provincial metropolis was buzzing with rumours that “he was on a secret mission to Dubai on behalf of President Asif Ali Zardari”.
A private TV channel reported on Wednesday evening that Mr Taseer had landed in Karachi on a flight from Colombo and proceeded to Lahore.