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Govt to make fresh attempt for consensus over PAC chairman

Updated November 19, 2018

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PTI has asked NA Speaker Asad Qaiser and Defence Minister Pervez Khattak to hold talks with the leaders of parliamentary parties.— DawnNewsTV/File
PTI has asked NA Speaker Asad Qaiser and Defence Minister Pervez Khattak to hold talks with the leaders of parliamentary parties.— DawnNewsTV/File

ISLAMABAD: The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has decided to once again engage the opposition parties in an effort to break the deadlock over the issue of nomination of the chairman of the all-powerful Public Accounts Committee (PAC) before making a “unilateral announcement” of the names of the members of all committees of the National Assembly.

Talking to Dawn on Sunday, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the party had asked National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser and Defence Minister Pervez Khattak to hold talks with the leaders of parliamentary parties to get the issue resolved as early as possible since delay in formation of the committees had started affecting the functioning of parliament.

Read: Editorial: PAC tussle

Mr Chaudhry said that in his opinion the speaker should go ahead with the formation of the committees without the representation of the opposition members as “no one should be allowed to make parliament hostage”. He, however, said it was up to the speaker to take necessary action to get the issue resolved.

Minister says PTI has asked NA speaker to consult parliamentary parties’ leaders to get the matter resolved

The NA speaker is on a tight rope because of the ongoing tussle between the PTI and the opposition parties over the issue of the PAC chairmanship as he has to stop the process of formation of the committees due to the opposition’s threat to boycott the committees if the ruling party does not offer the PAC chairmanship to Leader of the Opposition and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shahbaz Sharif as per the “parliamentary traditions”.

Sources said the PTI had been divided over the issue, with one group supporting the nomination of Mr Sharif as the PAC chairman while the other comprising hawkish elements like Fawad Chaudhry strongly opposing the idea. Due to this division within the party, Prime Minister Imran Khan had delayed a final decision on the matter. However, the sources said that during a meeting of the party’s parliamentary group last month, the prime minister sought the members’ opinion through voting and a majority of them opined that the PAC chairmanship should not be offered to Mr Sharif or to the opposition.

On the other hand, the opposition parties claimed that the speaker during a meeting with them had previously agreed to their demand for nominating Mr Sharif as the PAC chairman, but later backtracked from his commitment due to the resistance by the party members.

The PTI is unwilling to give the PAC chairmanship to the PML-N, saying that it could not allow Mr Sharif to review the projects that had been initiated and executed by the previous government of his elder brother Nawaz Sharif.

Talking to Dawn, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) stalwart and former head of the PAC Syed Khursheed Shah disclosed that Defence Minister Khattak had recently asked him to help resolve the matter. However, he said he had advised Mr Khattak not to put a “reverse gear” and let democratic traditions be flourished.

Mr Shah said he had already conveyed to the ruling party that any deviation from the past parliamentary tradition would not be beneficial for the government, parliament and democracy. He was of the view that being the largest party in the opposition, it was the right of the PML-N to get the PAC chairmanship, adding that the PPP would have no objection if the PML-N itself decided to replace Mr Sharif with some other party leader. “But, it is up to them (PML-N leaders) to decide and we cannot ask them to do so.”

Mr Shah claimed that the PAC under his chairmanship had already cleared a backlog till 2017 and now the committee would take up audit objections on the expenditures to be made by the present PTI government and, therefore, the logic being given by the PTI for not giving the PAC chairmanship to the PML-N was not valid.

Moreover, he said, there were 18 members of the then ruling PML-N in the previous PAC, but they could not influence the committee’s working. Mr Shah said that by delaying the formation of the NA committees, the government was violating the Constitution and assembly rules.

When contacted, Minister for Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mehmood said the government had asked the opposition to nominate any person other than Shahbaz Sharif for the office of the PAC chairman and allow the PTI to nominate its candidate for the same and then let the members decide who would head the PAC.

Mr Mehmood, who was also a member of the PAC under Mr Shah, claimed that the PAC was still unable to clear some of the audit objections raised by the auditor general in the accounts of 1998 and 1999. Moreover, he said, the PAC chairman could completely influence the functioning of the committee as he had the powers to convene the meetings and set the agenda.

Under the rules, the speaker is bound to constitute all standing and functional committees of the house “within 30 days after the election of the Leader of the House (prime minister)”. Since PTI chairman Imran Khan had been elected prime minister on Aug 18, the speaker had time till Sept 17 for the formation of over three dozen house committees.

Although there is no restriction on the government in the rules to give the chairmanship of the PAC to the opposition parties, it has been a parliamentary practice and tradition for the last 10 years that the office is given to an opposition member in order to ensure transparency in financial matters.

In the Charter of Democracy, signed by the PML-N and PPP in London in May 2006, the two parties had agreed that “the chairmen of public accounts committees in the National and provincial assemblies will be appointed by the leaders of opposition in the concerned assemblies”.

The PAC is the apex parliamentary watchdog that oversees the audit of revenue and expenditures by the government and it is considered to be the most powerful and important committee of parliament.

PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb had already stated that they were determined to stay away from all the committees if the NA speaker did not fulfil his commitment of appointing Shahbaz Sharif as the PAC chairman.

The speaker in a recent TV interview had stated that the issue of PAC chairmanship was between the government and the opposition and that he was ready to play the role of a bridge.

Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2018

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