ISLAMABAD: The government’s move to privatise the national flag carrier suffered a major setback when the Supreme Court restrained Special Adviser to the PM on Aviation Shujaat Azeem to have any role in the sale process, within a week after the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) was converted into a company.

Mr Azeem, who earlier chose to quit as an adviser on aviation when his position was disputed in the SC, is required to appear in person before a three-judge SC bench headed by Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali when the case will commence again on Jan 11. The adviser is facing similar allegations before the SC through petitions which he faced earlier that he was court-martialled while he was in the service of Pakistan Air Force (PAF) from 1968 to 1979.

The court is seized with contempt of court petitions moved by a private citizen, Mehmood Akhtar Naqvi, as well as by the general secretary of Pakistan Airline Pilot Association against the prime minister for appointing Mr Azeem in contravention of earlier court directions in the high office with the status of the minister of state.

On July 25, 2013, Mr Azeem had to resign from the post of adviser to the prime minister on the Aviation Division after he got embroiled in a controversy before the court for being court-martialled and a dual national (Canadian and Pakistani). Then Mr Azeem was asked to appear before the SC bench headed by then chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and announced in the open court that he was resigning from the post. The court was seized with a case relating to delay in the construction of the New Benazir Bhutto International Airport (NBBIA) at Fatehjang, 30 kilometres southwest of Islamabad.

Later, Mr Azim was again appointed as the special adviser to the prime minister on aviation in January last year.

Know more: Aviation division had no role in appointment of PM’s special adviser, court told

Earlier, the court had taken serious notice that no mention of Mr Azeem being convicted by the PAF was made in the summary for his appointment as the special adviser, which according to the court was a fact not in dispute. Similarly the same fact was also concealed in the service profile of Mr Azeem, submitted by the government.

On Friday when the case was taken up, Justice Amir Hani Muslim wondered how a person could hold a public office when he had been court-martialled earlier, adding that the individual was not even answerable before the parliament, the members of which become representatives of the people through elections. Mr Azeem did not even contest an election, the judge observed.

The chief justice also inquired whether Mr Azeem had any role in the privatisation process of PIA — an issue which has become controversial for which a joint parliamentary committee has been formed to look into the denationalisation of the national flag carrier.

Attorney General Salman Aslam Butt, however, sought a fortnight to submit a comprehensive reply outlining the stance taken by the government on the issue.

The court, however, said that it was willing to grant the law office time but it should hold out an assurance that Mr Azeem, in the meantime, would not take decisions affecting the privatisation process of PIA.

The AG, however, sought a break to get instructions and after a brief interlude he came back only to inform the bench that he could not establish contact with the competent authority but in his personal capacity he could assure the court that Mr Azeem would not take any decision regarding the sale of the national flag carrier.

The court then adjourned the matter for Jan 11, but restrained Mr Azeem from taking decisions in his personal capacity on the affairs of the Civil Aviation Authority and the privatisation of PIA with a direction that he would have to appear before the court on the next date of hearing.

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2015

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