ISLAMABAD: The government on Monday assured the Islamabad High Court of revisiting the composition of the 10th National Finance Commission (NFC) and hinted at replacing Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh in the commission as the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) appears to be not interested in pursuing the matter anymore.
PML-N lawmaker and former defence minister Engineer Khurram Dastagir has challenged the composition of the 10th NFC in the IHC. PML-N MNA Barrister Mohsin Shahnawaz Ranjha and Barrister Umer Gillani are the counsel for the petitioner.
Initially, Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb heard the petition. However, after a couple of hearings, he referred the matter to IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah with an observation that the petition may be fixed before a division bench.
On Monday, the two-judge bench comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Aurangzeb took up the petition, but neither the petitioner nor any of his counsel was present in the courtroom.
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However, Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan informed the bench that a member of the NFC, Javed Jabbar, had already resigned and the Balochistan High Court had issued an order against nomination of Hafeez Sheikh.
AG Khan also produced certified copies of the BHC judgement before the IHC division bench. He assured the court that he would advise the government to revisit the composition of the NFC in order to address the grievances of the petitioner.
The petitioner had challenged the May 12 notification about the commission’s composition and authorisation for Hafeez Sheikh to preside over NFC 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.
The petition said 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”.
The petition further said that “a close reading of the aforesaid will bear out that the Commission is supposed to have two kinds of members: statutory members and co-opted members”.
Statutory members, the petition said, were the five members, whose presence was essential for the commission, including the federal minister for finance and four provincial ministers for finance. 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, the petition said, the president also authorised the PM’s adviser on finance and revenue to chair meetings of the commission.
Published in Dawn, June 30th, 2020