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SC weighs criteria for discretionary powers

Updated June 29, 2013
— File Photo
— File Photo

ISLAMABAD, June 28: The Supreme Court may suggest criteria for the exercise of discretionary powers by the prime minister for distribution of development funds among parliamentarians under the Peoples Works Programme (PWP) or the Tameer-i-Watan scheme.

This was obvious from Friday’s proceedings of a suo motu case about grant of development funds to 69 lawmakers by former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf.

A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, hinted at proposing guidelines when names of some “notables” were mentioned who were not members of parliament but were given development funds from the national coffers.

Surprised with the way the former premier had doled out about Rs47 billion under the Peoples Works Programme, Rs25bn more than the Rs22bn annual budgetary discretionary funds available with him, the apex court issued a notice to him for July 16.

Ironically of the Rs25bn, Rs15bn had been diverted from the funds meant for Public Sector Development Programme and vital projects like Diamer Bhasa dam and Lowari tunnel as well as schemes for education and health sectors, institutions like Higher Education Commission, savings from national savings schemes and allocation for purchase of ambulances for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and a sewage scheme for Larkana.

An earlier stay granted by the apex court against release of development funds from the PWP-II would continue but the funds would not lapse.

The court had mentioned in its earlier order that the funds were given to former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s sons Ali Musa Gilani and Abdul Qadir Gilani, and the senior Gilani himself, who received Rs25 million after being disqualified by the court from holding a public office.

PML-Q leaders Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi and Chaudhry Wajahat Hussain received a total of Rs1bn while Rs50m went to Moonis Elahi, son of Pervez Elahi. MNA Sheikh Waqas Akram got Rs30m and the Shirazi family of Thatta (Sindh) received Rs100m. Pervez Ashraf got Rs2.5bn released for his constituency.

DUBIOUS GRANTS: During the proceedings on Friday, the court was told by a representative of the Accountant General Pakistan Revenue (AGPR) that Pervez Ashraf had ordered release of Rs40m to retired Colonel Ghulam Saleem without identifying any scheme and knowing that he was not a parliamentarian. Similarly notables Malik Mohammad Amir and Faisal Majeed were given Rs50m each.

The court was shocked to learn that in many cases even the names of “notables” were not mentioned, but the amounts for them were released by the AGPR.

The court sought assistance of Attorney General Muneer A. Malik on background of fund allocation to parliamentarians under the PWP or Tameer-i-Watan Programme and the criteria or the procedures of distributing such funds. The AG will also inform the court about the results of investing money in uplift schemes. The money, the court observed, ultimately belonged to tax-payers.

It was to be borne in mind, the court said, that the government of the time had identified different uplift schemes, both new and ongoing, in annual budgets, had spent budgetary allocations on them and completed the schemes.

The court was dismayed to learn that no objection had been raised against the allocation of discretionary funds by the staff of the prime minister’s secretariat, particularly at a time when the previous PPP government was about to complete its tenure on March 16.

Similarly, executing agencies — including the Pakistan Works Department (PWD), Sui Southren Gas Company and Pakistan Electric Power Company — and the provincial executing agencies had released funds without following rules and regulations under the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority.

The court said it would examine the issues under provisions of the constitution and the law governing the principles of exercise of discretionary powers by an authority.

It asked the officials of departments concerned like the AGPR, PWD, the auditor general and the finance ministry to put up their defence on the release of funds against the rules.

The court also asked persons who had spent PWP funds, including parliamentarians and notables, to come forward if they desired so but did not issue any notice to them, saying it would like to hear them before passing an order.

All functionaries concerned and former or incumbent office-holders of the relevant ministries were asked to extend assistance to the AG and the court. The finance ministry and the planning and development division were told to provide background of the schemes to the AG.