SC seeks govt’s point of view on news report

Published July 13, 2013
Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. — File Photo
Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. — File Photo

ISLAMABAD: The recent appointment of Shujaat Azeem as Adviser to Prime Minister on Aviation drew the attention of the Supreme Court hearing a case relating to the delay in construction of the New Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Fatehjang, 30km southwest of Islamabad.

The matter cropped up when Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry heading a three-judge bench asked the court staff to bring the July 7 edition of a newspaper which had carried a report headlined “New order for aviation causes uncertainty”.

“Without commenting on the news we would like to have reaction of the government of Pakistan through the attorney general to the contents of the report, particularly with reference to holding of dual nationality by Adviser to the Prime Minister Mr Azeem,” the chief justice said and asked Additional Attorney General Shah Khawar to communicate the court order to the government.

The court will take up the matter on July 17. According to the report, Shujaat Azeem was formally chief executive officer of the Royal Air Service, a ground handling company, and was reportedly a partner of Chaudhry Munir, the main infrastructure contractor for the new airport. This is an example of the conflict of interest.

The report said Mr Azeem was a former pilot of the Lebanon’s Hariri family and started his career as a PAF pilot and held Canadian citizenship. It quoted a military source as saying that Mr Azeem was court-martialled during his stint in the air force. The relevant paragraphs from the news item were read out by Advocate Iftikhar Gillani in the court and it was agreed that under constitutional provisions an adviser was like a minister.

The chief justice said no denial had been issued on the report, especially on the issue of dual nationality. The post was of a sensitive nature and involved strategic security issues, he added.

The additional attorney general admitted that the adviser should meet the prerequisites to become a member of parliament because he had to attend its meetings.

The chief justice asked Mr Khawar to show the quarters concerned the court’s Feb 13 order of throwing out a petition of Tehrik-i-Minhajul Quran’s chief Dr Tahirul Qadri because he was a Canadian national.

Dr Qadri had sought reconstitution of the Election Commission.

Referring to a petition moved by Advocate Asaf Vardag, the additional attorney general reiterated government’s stance that appointment of retired Air Marshal Khalid Chaudhry as Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) was in accordance with the criteria.

The court noted that the LTH, a joint venture of Legan, Technical Associates (Pvt) Ltd and Habib Construction Ltd, other shareholders and contractors of the new airport had neither deposited their passports nor submitted undertakings that they would not leave the country till a decision on the case, except with the permission of court.

Lawyer Asaf Vardag contended in his petition that the new Benazir airport was to be ready by December 2011, but its construction was still going on. Because of the delay the cost had already risen to Rs73 billion and might end up at Rs90bn.

Advocate Khawaja Haris Ahmad said he would also submit documents on behalf of the joint venture Legan. The court asked him to provide documents about the initial contract after pre-qualification with standard partners (Lagan and Husnain Construction) and then changing its composition allowing it to join Technical Associates and Habib Construction, along with a certificate from the Engineering Council of Pakistan allowing the change of composition of partnership.

The counsel is also required to place on record existence of their equity and who among them is enjoying administrative capacity of the project. The court directed CAA’s Director Legal Obaidur Rehman Abbasi to issue notices to other contractors to enable them to submit their reply before the next hearing.

The CAA director general is required to collect the notices from the office and issue them to the contractors to deposit their passports with undertaking that they will not leave the country without the permission of court.

All of them, including the contractors, are also required to file reaction to the report of retired Lt Gen Shahid Niaz and the audit report issued by the Auditor General of Pakistan on delay in construction of the new Benazir airport.

Meanwhile, Munir Muhammad, a shareholder of the Lagan Technical Associates; Chaudhry Faisal Munir, CEO of the same company; and Saleem Shahid, CEO of Habib Construction, submitted their passports.

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