ISLAMABAD, Oct 1: The Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly continues to press ahead with its right to have a role in overseeing financial expenditures of the Supreme Court.
In a latest twist to the controversy, the PAC, on the advice of the law ministry, has decided to seek legal opinion of constitutional experts to determine whether it can summon the SC registrar.
Sources said PAC Chairman Nadeem Afzal Gondal has initiated the move to contact distinguished lawyers, including Senator Aitzaz Ahsan, former Senator and veteran lawyer S. M. Zafar and former chairman of the Senate Wasim Sajjad.
Talking to Dawn, a government official said the issue had obvious political undercurrents because of which the PAC was pushing with its right of oversight and the registrar was refusing.
He said like any other department funded by the government the SC had been regularly conducting its internal audit and it was just a matter of its registrar appearing before the committee.
“And personally speaking, there is nothing in this exercise as the SC registrars used to appear before the PAC for the same purpose before 2005-2004,” he said.
Yasmin Rehman of the PPP, who is a member of the PAC, told Dawn that like a principal accounting officer of any other government department the SC registrar shouldn’t have any qualms about appearing before the committee for regularisation of accounts of the apex court.
She said due to consistent refusal of the SC registrar to appear before the PAC, the audit reports which otherwise were ready for publication, could not be completed.
“I don’t know about recent developments but in the past the committee has written to the SC registrar asking for his appearance. And it’s good if the PAC chairman has taken this initiative to resolve this dispute,” Ms Rehman said.
In response to the SC’s stand that since its funds are drawn from the charged expenditures which are not voted upon in the National Assembly the PAC has no right oversee them, she said there were many other departments such as the presidency, prime minister’s secretariat, payments of internal and external debts which fell under the head of charged expenditures but their principal accounting officers appeared before the PAC.
It was former PAC chairman Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan who had written to the SC registrar for mandatory regularisation of administrative expenditures of superior courts and the SC took the stand that for the independence of judiciary, the SC registrar was not supposed to appear before the PAC.
The SC registrar wrote to the PAC: “The remuneration payable to the judges of the Supreme Court – Article 81 (a) – and administrative expenses including the remuneration payable to officers and servants of the court – Article 81 (b) – are amounts which are charges upon the federal consolidated fund and same are not paid out of the public accounts of the federation.”
Therefore, the National Assembly has no oversight role on expenditures which are charged upon the federal consolidated fund, which are duly covered under Article 82 (1) of the constitution.
The SC registrar explained in the letter that a plain reading of the Constitution would show that the Supreme Court wasn’t part of the government, as underlined under Article 81. “The Supreme Court is, in fact, separate from and independent of the government. If, at all, there was any ambiguity on this end, the same is set at rest by Article 90 of the Constitution as now amended.”