ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has observed that federal Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Haider Zaidi has prima facie misused his power in appointing an audit firm for the Karachi Port Trust (KPT) and reminded the counsel for the federation that most references prepared by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) are based on the allegation of misuse of authority.
Chief Justice Athar Minallah was on Thursday hearing a petition filed by retired Rear Admiral Jameel Akhtar against the termination of his service as KPT chairman.
Additional Attorney General Tariq Mehmood Khokhar, who appeared on behalf of the federation, argued before the court that as per notification for the appointment of Mr Akhtar, he was appointed KPT chairman for two years in 2017, adding that his term had already expired.
The IHC chief justice, however, pointed out that the record showed otherwise. He drew Mr Khokhar’s attention to the summary and approval and another notification of the federal cabinet according to which the appointment was made for three years.
Court asks why Ali Zaidi is interfering in Karachi Port Trust’s affairs
The court also asked the additional attorney general to explain why Mr Zaidi was interfering in the KPT’s affairs and the minister as well as the secretary of the maritime ministry appointed the private audit firm for conducting audit of the KPT’s accounts.
He asked under what authority of law, “private auditors and the fee could be authorised by the ministry”.
The court directed the additional attorney general “to satisfy this court as to how private auditors could be appointed when even forensic audit could have been conducted through the Auditor General of Pakistan”.
Mr Akhtar was appointed KPT chairman by the PML-N government on Nov 23, 2017, for three years.
The federal government has removed him from the post citing different reasons.
According to a notification issued by the Establishment Division on March 25, the federal government has removed him from the KPT chairman post “forthwith by modifying/reducing his period of initial appointment in terms of Section 11 of KPT Act, 1886, with immediate effect”.
Subsequently, another notification of the Establishment Division stated that “the federal government is pleased to assign additional charge of the post of chairman Karachi Port Trust (KPT) to Mr Shakeel Mangnejo (BS-21), Director General of Ports and Shipping, under the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, for a period of three (03) months”.
However, another notification issued by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs stated that Mr Akhtar has been removed from the office of the KPT chairman with immediate effect because of “irregularities in KPT”.
The court, after hearing Mr Khokhar who was representing the federal government as well as the maritime ministry, observed that “the learned additional attorney general could not satisfy this court that allegations of irregularities could be raised on the basis of an audit which has not been completed”.
Subsequently, the court sought a detailed reply from the secretary and the minister for maritime affairs. The court asked them “to justify interference in the affairs of the Karachi Port Trust”.
The court observed: “Prima facie, appears to this court that the federal cabinet was not properly briefed while submitting the case [of termination of Akhtar].”
Further hearing was adjourned to April 16.
Advocates Agha Mohammad Ali Khan and Raja Zahoorul Hassan represented Mr Akhtar in the case.
The court on March 27 suspended the notification for the removal of Mr Akhtar and reinstated him till the final order in this matter.
Mr Akhtar’s petition has pointed out that by virtue of his office of KPT chairman, he was also a trustee of the Trust. It stressed that once a trustee or the chairman is appointed, the removal can only be made on the grounds stated in the above-mentioned sections of the KPT Act.
Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2020