Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar on Sunday reprimanded outgoing Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif after he failed to satisfy the court regarding the hiring of and payment of high salaries to government officials appointed as heads of 56 public-sector private companies.
A two-judge bench at the Supreme Court's Lahore registry has been hearing a suo motu notice of the appointment of a retired officer as head of the Strategic Management and Internal Policy Unit on a salary package much greater than that being paid to the Punjab chief secretary.
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"You were a custodian of the national exchequer. On which basis were government officers hired against salaries of Rs2.5 million each?" the chief justice asked Shahbaz, whose tenure as Punjab chief minister ended earlier in the week.
Shahbaz told the court that the relevant authorities, and not himself, had appointed the chief executives.
He added that the appointments had been made on the basis of merit and claimed to have saved billions of rupees from being plundered.
The chief justice rejected the claims and questioned the merit of the appointments, asking why such hefty amounts were paid to government officers.
"We are not satisfied with your answer," Justice Nisar added.
Shahbaz responded saying he would accept the court's decision, upon which the CJP asserted: "You will have to accept the decision."
The CJP said that tens of millions of rupees were invested in Punjab Saaf Pani Company but not a single drop of water was supplied.
Justice Nisar said that all the officers who enjoyed perks worth tens of thousands of rupees would have to pay back each and every penny, adding that Shahbaz would be responsible for ensuring this payback.
He said that notices would be issued to the former CM if the amount was not returned.
The entire episode infuriated Shahbaz, who told the court he had not saved billions of rupees of taxpayers money because "he had been bitten by a rabid dog".
The CJP responded by saying he did not know what had bitten the ex-chief minister, and that such language did not suit Shahbaz.
Shahbaz then sought a pardon for his language and agreed that the Punjab Saaf Pani Company had not provided water to the people.
He said that the government had rescued itself from a Rs70bn fraud in the water company, and that he had saved Rs160bn in power projects.
"You can give me whatever punishment you like if corruption of a single penny is proved against me," Shahbaz said.
At that point, Justice Ijazul Ahsan quoted the National Accountability Bureau's (NAB) findings which suggested corruption in all 56 companies.
Shahbaz, however, challenged the findings and said that the bureau should show the evidence, if it has any.
Earlier in the day, the CJP had ordered NAB to estimate the value of properties owned by the 56 chief executive officers under scrutiny.
During the hearing, the advocate general of Punjab told the court that the outgoing chief minister had no direct connection with the companies.
The chief justice, however, rejected the argument, saying that "not even a fly can move in the province without his involvement", and had directed the advocate general to approach the CM and ask him where he was and when he could appear before the bench.
Subsequently, the court was told that Shahbaz would appear before the court at 2pm.