ISLAMABAD: The Sup­reme Court on Thursday held as illegal playwright and columnist Ataul Haq Qasmi’s appointment as cha­ir­man and director of the state-run Pakistan Television (PTV) on a handsome package of Rs1.5 million excluding perks.

Appointed PTV chairman on Dec 23, 2015, Mr Qasmi served in the post until Dec 18, 2017, and during his two-year tenure a total of Rs284.2m was spent on either making direct payments to him or in settling expenses incurred by him, or on his behalf.

The judgement came after a three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan conducted suo motu proceedings about Mr Qasmi’s appointment after the expiry of tenure of PTV’s former managing director, Mohammad Malick, on Feb 26, 2016.

The judgement that was authored by the chief justice but announced by Justice Bandial also held that the way Mr Qasmi was appointed reflected a clear-cut “case of dictated exercise of discretion”.

Thus, the payment of salary and benefits or allowances to Mr Qasmi was unlawful and unauthorised, said the judgement and added that because he was not entitled to such payments he could not retain the same.

The verdict not only termed Mr Qasmi’s appointment illegal but also held the appointing authorities — namely former information minister Pervez Rashid, former finance minister Ishaq Dar and then secretary to then prime minister Fawad Hasan Fawad — guilty of illegally making the appointment. It also ordered that Rs197.8m be recovered from them.

The ratios of the money to be recovered from them were mentioned in the 48-page judgement, which said that 50 per cent or about Rs98.9m out of Rs197.8m would be recovered from Mr Qasmi for being beneficiary of the illegal acts. The former ministers would make payments to the tune of 20 per cent each (about Rs19.7m) for ignoring the law while Mr Fawad would pay 10 per cent or about Rs0.98m for his failure to act with due diligence in processing the appointment summary, which was person-specific instead of containing names of three suitable candidates as per the Esta Code.

The court provided the four individuals the opportunity to reimburse the amounts voluntarily because these were their liabilities. In case they failed to do so within a period of two months, PTV would recover the amounts from them in the stated ratios.

In case Mr Qasmi betrayed a lack of trustworthy behaviour and did not pay the amount, he would be ineligible to be appointed as director of any company from the date of the ruling, said the court.

According to the verdict, the administrative measures taken by Mr Qasmi were beyond the scope of a chairman’s duty, therefore all the orders passed by him during his tenure were illegal and void ab initio.

The court ordered the federal government to appoint a full-time managing director of PTV (if the position is still vacant) after fulfilling all legal, procedural and codal formalities strictly in accordance with the law and furnish a report in this regard within two weeks.

The government has already appointed a two-time managing director, Arshad Khan, as the PTV’s chairman.

The judgement observed that public officials, particularly the heads of ministries who were elected representatives of the people, owed their allegiance and loyalty to Pakistan, the Constitution and the law. They were obligated to act accordingly and without being influenced by extraneous considerations.

Public officials were not allowed to take decisions arbitrarily, after circumventing the law and at their own whims in order to please certain individuals, the judgement said.

The government officials were duty-bound to discharge their functions independently and were not to be influenced by “dictated exercise of discretion”, the verdict added.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2018