ISLAMABAD: The ‘election’ of Rana Tanveer Hussain of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) as the chairman of the parliament’s all-powerful Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Thursday became a smooth affair due to an understanding reached between the government and the opposition.

Interestingly, the name of Mr Hussain as the new PAC chairman was proposed by Sardar Nasrullah Khan Dreshak of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and it was endorsed by PML-N Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed and Raja Pervez Ashraf of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

Mr Hussain has replaced Opposition Leader and PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif who had formally submitted his resignation to National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser on Nov 18, a day before leaving for London with his ailing brother and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

In his resignation, Mr Sharif had nominated party MNA from Sheikhupura and former minister Rana Tanveer Hussain as his replacement, saying that his name might be considered for this position “as decided by the joint opposition parties”.

Name was proposed by Nasrullah Dreshak of PTI

Mr Sharif had stated that he was resigning from the office due to his pressing engagements as the opposition leader and the PML-N president.

Though the PPP had challenged Mr Sharif’s claim that Mr Hussain had been a joint opposition candidate, it later did not make it an issue in the larger interest of the opposition’s unity which is at present running an anti-government campaign from the platform of a nine-party Rehbar Committee.

Soon after his election, Mr Hussain offered the PAC members that he was ready to constitute a new sub-committee to look into irregularities or embezzlement in the funds committed during the previous PML-N government.

“I have no objection if members suggest making another sub-committee to discuss audit paras made during the PML-N government,” he said after listening to speeches of members and their various suggestions.

Leader of the House in the Senate and a member of the PAC Shibli Faraz expressed the hope that opposition parties would also extend its cooperation to the government while carrying out public interest legislation in the parliament. Expressing his concern over the slow pace of working by the PAC, he called for making the committee more effective.

Later, talking to Dawn, Mr Faraz said the PTI had allowed Mr Sharif’s nominee to become the PAC chairman as a “goodwill gesture” as part of the ongoing reconciliation between the government and the opposition. He recalled that during the previous session of the National Assembly, after an understanding the government had agreed to withdraw a number of ordinances and the opposition had also announced withdrawal of a no-trust motion against Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri.

The PAC has been non-functional as Mr Sharif had not presided over any meeting for nearly six months. It was in May that Mr Shahbaz Sharif, who was on a private visit to the UK, had announced his decision to quit the chairmanship of the PAC, a position he had secured after prolonged wrangling between the government and opposition parties.

Party’s spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb later said that Mr Sharif was “never keen” to become the PAC chairman and had accepted the position only on the insistence of the joint opposition and the parliamentary advisory group.

The PML-N spokesperson said that members of the other opposition parties had been expressing concern over non-convening of the PAC meetings and had demanded that Mr Sharif should nominate someone else if he was not available to preside over the committee meetings.

Mr Sharif was elected PAC chairman unopposed on Dec 22 last year after Prime Minister Imran Khan finally surrendered before the opposition’s demand in the wake of its threat to withdraw from all committees of the National Assembly.

Though there is no restriction on the government in rules to give PAC chairmanship to opposition parties, it has been a parliamentary practice and tradition that the office is given to an opposition member to ensure transparency in financial affairs.

The PTI government was reluctant to give chairmanship of this vital parliamentary committee to the opposition leader contrary to the traditional practice as the prime minister was unwilling to offer the position to Mr Sharif because he was facing corruption charges.

The PML-N had refused to nominate another member from the party to head the PAC, arguing that according to parliamentary tradition, the leader of opposition should become the chairman of this committee.

It was initially agreed by the PPP and the PML-N in the Charter of Democracy (CoD) signed by former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto in London in May 2006 that the opposition leader would be appointed as the PAC chairman. When the PPP formed its government in 2008, PML-N’s Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan became the PAC chairman. However, when he resigned from the office after developing some differences over the issue of the appointment of the auditor-general, the PPP nominated Nadeem Afzal Chan as the PAC chairman instead of asking the PML-N to nominate some other person in place of Chaudhry Nisar.

During the five-year tenure of the previous PML-N government, PPP’s Syed Khursheed Shah headed the PAC chairmanship by virtue of his position as the opposition leader.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2019