ISLAMABAD: The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) is divided on the issue of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chairmanship as there are two camps within the party — one in favour of offering the position to the opposition and the other opposing it, Dawn learnt on Saturday.
Sources in the party said members of both groups in recent days had already conveyed their views and arguments to Prime Minister Imran Khan after which the party leadership decided to defer the final decision till Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s return from the US.
Mr Qureshi, who is also PTI vice chairman, is currently attending the 73rd UN General Assembly session in New York and is expected to return this week.
The sources said Mr Qureshi himself supported the idea of giving the chairmanship of the PAC to the opposition as per parliamentary tradition. Besides, Mr Qureshi, the sources said, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser and Defence Minister Pervez Khattak were also among those party leaders who supported the idea of allowing the opposition to head the all-powerful and key parliamentary committee.
However, the sources said, the cabinet members who believed that the government should keep the key position with itself included Finance Minister Asad Umar, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry and Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari.
Decision deferred till party vice chairman returns from US
The main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in a meeting of its parliamentary group last week had nominated its president and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif to head the PAC.
Earlier on Friday, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari had advised the government to follow the parliamentary tradition and give the PAC chairmanship to the opposition.
Briefing the reporters after a meeting of PTI candidates, which was presided over Prime Minister Imran Khan at Banigala on Saturday, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry confirmed the reports about a “division” within the party over the issue.
The information minister said he had recently met NA Speaker Asad Qaiser and the prime minister and informed them that he personally believed “the opposition has no right over the PAC chairmanship”.
“[Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly] Shahbaz Sharif will be auditing projects which had been undertaken by (former premier Nawaz Sharif),” the minister said, adding that it would be “like asking the fox to guard the henhouse”.
The minister, however, agreed that when the PAC started reviewing the PTI government projects, then its chairman should be from the present opposition.
Mr Chaudhry said the prime minister had been presented with the two points of view and the matter would be decided when Mr Qureshi returned from the US.
Though the opposition has not decided its strategy in this regard so far, a senior PML-N leader hinted that they could even consider a boycott of the PAC, if its chairmanship was not offered to them.
The PAC is the apex parliamentary watchdog that oversees the audit of revenue and expenditure by the government and it is considered to be the most powerful and important committee of the parliament. Previously, the PAC comprised only the members of the National Assembly but recently senators were also made part of the committee.
While there is no legal restriction on the government to offer the PAC chairmanship to the opposition, it has been a parliamentary practice and tradition that the office is given to an opposition member in order to ensure transparency in the financial matters.
In the Charter of Democracy (CoD), signed by the PML-N and the PPP in London in May 2006, the two parties had agreed “the chairmen of public accounts committees in the national and provincial assemblies will be appointed by the leaders of opposition in the concerned assemblies.”
In the light of the CoD, Leader of the Opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan headed the PAC during the tenure of the PPP government in 2008-13, whereas Syed Khursheed Shah of the PPP headed the PAC during the PML-N regime N from 2013 to 2018. However, Mr Nisar had resigned from the position over the controversial appointment of the auditor general at that time and then the PPP had nominated its member Nadeem Afzal Chan as the PAC head.
Sources in the PML-N told Dawn that a party delegation had recently met NA Speaker Asad Qaiser to discuss the formation of the new committees and demanded that the PAC chairmanship be offered to them as per the past tradition.
The sources claimed that the speaker had also expressed his desire that the PAC should be headed by an opposition member and assured the opposition that he would discuss the matter with the party leadership. Mr Qaiser met the prime minister on Friday.
Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2018