Dawn News

March, 30 2015
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The judgment might have disappointed some quarters expecting a government-judiciary clash, but people studying the past moves of the SC were not surprised. The SC, lawyers say, has avoided a confrontation with the executive. – File Photo

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced in the National Assembly on Monday that Sohail Ahmed, who was removed from the post of establishment secretary and made ‘officer on special duty’, had been appointed as secretary of the narcotics control division.

The Supreme Court had on Friday ordered the government to appoint Sohail Ahmed to a post — any post —within a week.

This judgment might have disappointed some quarters expecting a government-judiciary clash, but people studying the past moves of the SC were not surprised. The SC, lawyers say, has avoided a confrontation with the executive.

Salman Raja, a Supreme Court lawyer, says the judges’ observations aside, the Supreme Court in its judgments has been very particular about its constitutional limits vis-à-vis the executive. “Judges know very well what they can do and what they cannot.”

This appears to have been the objective since Oct 2009 when the Supreme Court ordered the federal government through a judgment to ensure that the retail price of sugar remained fixed at Rs40 per kg. The dynamics of market forces and the powerful sugar cartel ensured that this could not happen. The price of sugar shot up to Rs90 plus for a while after the orders.

“The Supreme Court should never have intervened in sugar prices,” says S.M. Zafar, a prominent lawyer and leader of the PML-Q which is partner in the ruling coalition. Since then there has not been another such judgment.

Take the case of the petitions against the mode of appointment of judges that came into being as part of the 18th Amendment.

Throughout 2010, the case was the focus of much media attention for various reasons and provided an opportunity to many political pundits to predict that the judiciary would clip the powers of parliament to appoint judges.

However, in the third week of Oct 2010, the court’s decision simply asked the parliament to review the new constitutional amendment.

An earlier case was the one in which the SC took suo motu notice of media reports about the alleged scam in the award of contract of import of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Heard in 2009-2010, the decision in April 2010 by the court simply asked the government to hold the bid again. More importantly, no individual was held responsible or guilty.

Similarly, when the court took up the case of Reko Diq copper and gold reserves, the issue at hand was whether or not the mining contract for the area had been awarded to a foreign firm without the requisite transparency.

In the third week of May this year, the Supreme Court vacated its own stay order stopping mineral exploration in Reko Diq.

The government of Balochistan was asked to decide, in a transparent manner, the bid of Tethyan Copper Company -- it was the only company that had put in a bid.

Consider now the volatile cases concerning the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) and in turn President Asif Zardari.

Though the NRO was stuck down by the Supreme Court in the second week of Dec 2009, the federal government has petitioned it for a review. The SC is yet to take up the case.

Similarly, a number of petitions challenging Mr Zardari’s immunity after the suspension of the NRO are also yet to be taken up.

In fact, the only recent occasion that created a perception of a confrontation between the executive and the judiciary was when on July 2 the court brought back Zafar Quereshi to investigate the politically explosive National Insurance Company Limited (NICL) scam. Two days later, the government suspended him for speaking to the media.

But then as the chatter about a possible clash grew louder came the Friday decision, which was quietly acted by the government.


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