ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is scheduled to undergo an open-heart surgery in a UK hospital on Tuesday, is overseeing the affairs of his government from London, the media wing of PM House assured the nation on Saturday.

“The prime minister is being informed regularly about the overall situation of the country and in this regard both the military and principal secretaries are ... regularly providing assistance to the prime minister who is also in direct contact with his cabinet colleagues and issuing necessary orders,” it said.

The spokesperson for PM House, however, conceded that the prime minister being the chief executive of the country had to relinquish his duties during the period when he would be undergoing the surgery.

A senior government official said, “It may take a little over a week for the prime minister to recover and travel back to Pakistan.”

Constitutional questions arise as to how state affairs should be managed in the absence of PM

AFP quoted the official as saying that Nawaz Sharif was paying all expenses from his own pocket and “none of the state expenditures are involved”.

The premier is in constant contact with his ministers with no postponements or delays in matters pertaining to the routine functioning of the state, said a statement issued by the PM Office in Islamabad.

Meanwhile, former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry feared that in the PM’s absence the upcoming budget session would be entirely unconstitutional and illegal.

He suggested that the only remedy left to provide legal cover to the passage of budget and avoid a constitutional and financial crisis was an in-house change with the PM stepping down to pave the way for his successor in the shape of a new leader of the house.

Justice Chaudhry’s re­­marks coincided with an official statement run by the PPI news agency in which it was announced that federal budget for the financial year 2016-17 would be presented in the National Assembly on Friday.

In the statement, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said that arrangements were being finalised to present the budget on time.

Special assistant and spokesman for the prime minister, Musadik Malik, told the electronic media on Friday night that all affairs of the state would continue as per the law of the land and Mr Dar would be responsible for managing the routine matters of the government.

Illegal, unconstitutional

But Justice Chaudhry who served as the most powerful chief justice of the country for seven long years thought otherwise. “Without the verification of the budget statement by the prime minister under Article 82 of the Constitution, the entire exercise of presenting the budget in the National Assembly for its passage will be illegal and unconstitutional,” he insisted.

So [illegal and unconstitutional] will be the calling of the joint sitting of parliament which President Mamnoon Hussain will be addressing after the closure of the third parliamentary year, which will be ending on June 3, he claimed.

Justice Chaudhry, who is president of the Pakistan Justice and Democratic Party, was speaking at a press conference at his residence on Saturday. He was accompanied by his focal person Sheikh Ehsanuddin.

Under the rules of business, it is the prime minister who sends the summary to the president for calling the parliamentary session at the start of a new parliamentary year which is always marked with a speech of the president, he said.

Praying for the wellbeing and speedy recovery of the prime minister, Justice Chaudhry said the 1973 Constitution was silent on dealing with the PM’s absence from the country.

Eighth Amendment

Earlier, before the 8th Amendment became part of the Constitution, a provision under Article 95(3) provided a way forward by asking a designated senior minister to step in and fill the void. But that provision was repealed through the 8th Amendment.

Referring to the reported notification that Mr Dar would step into the PM’s shoes to oversee the affairs of the government until the prime minister returns home, Justice Chaudhry explained that Mr Dar may be a competent person but he was a senator and not a member of the National Assembly. Therefore, he pointed out, he cannot be substituted as the leader of the house.

Secondly, he said, the prime minister cannot designate any cabinet member as his successor and the only remedy left was immediate stepping down by Mr Sharif to pave the way for another member of the lower house to fill the coveted position.

This becomes all the more important, he said, because when the prime minister would be undergoing the surgery, he would be under the influence of medicines and would therefore lose consciousness. Thus he would not be in a position to make decisions, Justice Chaudhry said, adding that likewise any person nominated by the prime minister to act in his place would also not make important decisions in emergency situations or make appointment to important positions.

Reuters quoted Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of the prime minister, as saying on her official Twitter account that “PM in 2011 had a cardiac procedure called ‘Atrial Fibrillation Ablation’, during which certain complications occurred resulting in perforation of heart which was in turn treated by open heart surgery”.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among those who responded to the tweet, wishing Mr Sharif a speedy recovery and good health.

“My best wishes to PM Nawaz Sharif Sahab for his open heart surgery on Tuesday. And for his speedy recovery & good health,” said a tweet from Mr Modi.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2016



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