ISLAMABAD, Nov 27: After seeking advice from independent jurists and the law division, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the National Assembly decided on Tuesday to put the Supreme Court registrar on notice and insist on his personal appearance before the committee.
“The committee, through a unanimous vote and on the basis of legal opinion it has sought from the law ministry and constitutional experts, has decided to take up administrative expenditures of the superior courts. Therefore, it has asked the SC registrar to appear before the committee,” PAC Chairman Nadeem Afzal Gondal said while presiding over a meeting of the committee in the Parliament House.
However, he clarified that the committee had called the SC registrar as part of its constitutional role under the 18th Amendment and it should not be misinterpreted as a confrontation between the judiciary and parliament.
Talking to Dawn, SC Registrar Dr Faqir Hussain said his stated position was based on the decision of a full-court sitting. “I will be able to comment on the PAC notice only after I receive it,” he said.
The issue has been pending before the committee for about three years when PAC’s former chairman, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, wrote to the SC registrar for mandatory regularisation of administrative expenditures of the apex court. In reply to the letter, the SC took the stand that for independence of the judiciary, the registrar was not supposed to appear before the PAC.
Referring to the full-court sitting held on Jan 7, 2006, 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.
“According to full court decision, 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.”
The PAC has been insisting that after the passage of the 18th Amendment it has been given overriding powers to get hold of all government departments which receive funds from the government kitty.
On Oct 11, the PAC had invited former law minister and sitting Senator Aitzaz Ahsan, former senator and veteran SC lawyer S.M. Zafar, former chairman of the Senate Wasim Sajjad, Justice (retd) Tariq Mehmood, Supreme Court Bar Association President Yasin Azad and Justice (retd) Shabbar Raza Rizvi to seek their opinion on the issue. They all supported the committee’s assertion to summon the SC registrar. The Auditor General of Pakistan has also spoken in favour of the PAC decision.
It may be recalled that until 2004-05, the SC registrar used to appear before the committee like other principal accounting officers of government departments.
PTCL AUDIT: The PAC took serious notice of refusal by the Pakistan Telecommunication Company to have government audit.
The PTCL’s legal adviser argued before the committee that as per the company’s act, the AGP could not carry out its audit. He said that at present private firm Etisalat held the administrative charge of PTCL and, therefore, the AGP could not ask it for the audit.
Hamid Yar Hiraj of the PML-Q, who has a legal background, asked if the government had sold PTCL’s majority shares to the private company.
The committee was informed that the government had 62 per cent shares in PTCL and Etisalat only held administrative control of the company which by no means allowed it to escape the government audit.
The PAC asked the AG office to hold a meeting with the PTCL management and law ministry officials on the issue.
The committee was informed that Etisalat had yet to pay $800 million to the government and the dispute had been lingering on since 2006. Etisalat is also in dispute with the government over the legal status of PTCL’s holdings.
Hamid Yar Hiraj accused the top bosses of the IT ministry, whose secretary headed the PTCL board, of not resolving the payment and other issues.
He alleged that the IT secretary, being chairman of PTCL board of directors, enjoyed a number of unaccounted for perks and privileges.