IHC issues notices to govt on petition against NFC composition

Updated May 29 2020

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Judge warns of imposing fine if petitioner fails to substantiate contentions in plea. — AFP/File
Judge warns of imposing fine if petitioner fails to substantiate contentions in plea. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court on Thursday issued notices to the federal government on a petition filed against the composition of the 10th National Finance Commission (NFC). The court, however, warned petitioner Khurram Dastagir Khan, a leader of the Pakistan Muslin League-Nawaz (PML-N), that he might be fined if he failed to substantiate contentions in the petition.

Taking up the petition, Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb of the IHC remarked that the parliamentarians, instead of resolving such matters in the parliament, filed petitions to resolve such issues through courts.

Barrister Mohsin Shahnawaz Ranjha and Barrister Umer Gillani appeared on behalf of the petitioner.

Mr Ranjha argued that he learnt that the Sindh government also raised objections to the composition of the NFC.

Judge warns of imposing fine if petitioner fails to substantiate contentions in plea

Justice Aurangzeb observed that the petitioner had placed no document to substantiate this claim and the court would not pass an order on mere assumptions.

The petitioner requested the court to set aside the May 12 notification about composition of the NFC and authorisation of Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Dr Hafeez Sheikh to preside over its meetings.

The finance ministry had notified the constitution of the 11-member NFC after approval of its terms of reference by President Arif Alvi as required under Article 160 (1) of the Constitution.

However, the commission will effectively comprise 10 members as the president has also authorised the adviser on finance to chair meetings of the NFC in the absence of the finance minister. Otherwise, there is no room for the PM’s adviser to become even a member of the commission under the Constitution.

The commission will have four provincial finance ministers and four non-statutory members representing the provinces and the federal finance secretary as official expert.

The petition argued that President Alvi, who is purported to have issued the notification under Article 160 of the Constitution, had a duty to “constitute a National Finance Commission consisting of minister of finance of the federal government, ministers of finance of provincial governments and such other persons as may be appointed by the President after consultation with governors of the provinces”.

It said that “a close reading of the aforesaid will bear out that the Commission is supposed to have two kinds of members: (i) statutory members; (ii) and co-opted members”.

The statutory members, the petition said, were five whose presence was essential for the commission, including the federal minister for finance and four provincial ministers for finance. The co-opted members, it added, included five statutory members and more members could be added. However, it said, a co-opted member might only be added after “consultation with governors of the provinces”.

The petition said that “any co-opted member may be added only if there is consensus among the President and governors of the provinces (acting on the advice of their respective cabinets) that the expertise of such co-opted member is necessary for the NFC”.

“However, the impugned notification does not make reference to any consultations whatsoever which the President held with governors of the provinces regarding the selection and appointment of each one of the co-opted members of the NFC,” the petition said, adding that it might be assumed that no such consultations were held.

Moreover, it said, the president had also authorised the PM’s adviser on finance to chair meetings of the commission.

The petition said the president and the governors were bound to act on and in accordance with the advice of their respective cabinets or the prime minister and chief ministers, as the case may be. The impugned notification, it added, did not make any mention of such an advice.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2020