Appointment of prime minister’s aides challenged

Updated 16 Apr 2020

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SC urged to declare the executive action by unelected people illegal. — DawnNewsTV/File
SC urged to declare the executive action by unelected people illegal. — DawnNewsTV/File

ISLAMABAD: The federal government’s authority to appoint and keep a large number of advisers and special assistants with the status of federal or state minister came into question on Wednesday when a petition was filed in the Supreme Court, seeking to declare such appointments illegal.

The joint petition moved by members of the Islamabad High Court Bar Association and Rawalpindi Bar Association argued that the special assistants and advisers were neither elected members of parliament nor were part of the cabinet as per the Constitution, yet more than one and a half dozens of them were enjoying the executive authority.

The petition requested the court to declare that special assistants to the prime minister and advisers with the status of federal ministers or ministers of state were not entitled to any financial benefit, including salaries, allowances, perks and privileges.

It highlighted that since the prime minister functioned in the domain of trust under Article 5 of the Constitution, he was obliged to obey the law like other citizens of Pakistan. While exercising his executive authority, his discretion was neither brazen nor arbitrary but subject to the Constitution, as he had taken the oath to discharge his duties and perform function solely in accordance with the Constitution, the petition argued. But the executive actions by unelected advisers and special assistants instead of people’s representatives showed as if the democracy was at war with itself, the petition argued.

SC urged to declare the executive action by unelected people illegal

The respondents have been named as Adviser on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam Khan, Adviser on Commerce and Investment Abdul Razak Dawood, Adviser on Institutional Reforms and Austerity Dr Ishrat Hussain, Adviser on Finance and Revenue Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, Adviser on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Social Protection and Poverty Dr Sania Nishtar, SAPM on Establishment Mohammad Shahzad Arbab, SAPM on Accountability and Interior Mirza Shahzad Akbar, SAPM on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development Syed Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari, SAMP on Youth Affairs Mohammad Usman Dar, SAPM on Parliamentary Coordination Nadeem Afzal Gondal, SAPM on Power and Petroleum Sardar Yar Mohammad Rind, SAPM on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, SAMP on Petroleum Nadeem Babar, SAPM on National Security and Strategic Policy Planning Dr Moeed Yousaf, SAPM on Digital Pakistan Tania S. Aidrus, SAPM on Coordination of Marketing and Development of Mineral Resources Shahzad Syed Qasim, SAPM on National Health Service Regulation and Coordination Dr Zafar Mirza and SAPM on CDA Ali Nawaz Awan.

The petition requested the SC to direct the respondents to surrender all the salaries and other perks and privileges from the date of assuming of office till their removal since their appointments were against the constitution and law of the land. The exercise of any executive authority by the respondents was also against the law and Constitution, pleaded the petition moved through Advocate Jehangir Khan Jadoon by Mohammad Arshad Khan and Ghulam Dastgeer Butt.

Hearing a suo motu case about measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus on Monday, Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed had expressed his disapproval by describing that an army of assistants and special advisers had overtaken, making the entire cabinet redundant.

The petition pleaded that soon after the PTI took the reins of the government, Prime Minister Imran Khan appointed 25 federal ministers, four ministers of state, five advisers and 14 special assistants, while the appointments and reshuffles were still on.

The Constitution in its interpretation clause of Article 260 only had an oblique reference to special assistants and it was silent on their appointment, the petition said. To supply this omission, Rule 4(6) of the Rules of Business, 1973 came in aid of the PM, but since rules could not override the constitutional provision, such appointments were illegal, the petition contended.

In a nutshell, the status, powers and rights of a federal minister or a minister of state could not be conferred upon unelected advisers and special assistants to the prime minister, nor could they participate in or attend cabinet proceedings conducted by the prime minister, the petition argued.

“One wonders if Prime Minister Imran Khan is honouring the constitution more in the breach than in the observance by granting the status of federal ministers to his advisers and that of ministers of state to his special assistants,” the petition argued.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2020