ISLAMABAD: In a new turn in the Broadsheet saga, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser on Thursday stopped the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of parliament from discussing the issue, saying the matter be left to the one-man inquiry commission of retired Justice Azmat Saeed Sheikh.

However, the PAC members belonging to both the houses of parliament, including those from treasury benches, rejected the directive, saying it was an attempt to make redundant the country’s highest accountability forum.

Moreover, PAC asked Shibli Faraz, federal minister for information and broadcasting, to probe how a discussion related to the alleged deletion of audit paras was leaked to the media.

PAC was scheduled to examine an audit report of the National Highway Authority (NHA) on Thursday but its chairman Rana Tanveer Hussain, due to the above mentioned development, held an hour-long in-camera session to discuss the issue with the members.

Sources privy to the committee’s meeting said Mr Hussain shared with the members the NA speaker’s communication not to take up the Broadsheet case in PAC. He said the speaker even warned that if the matter was added to the agenda, he would block holding of the committee’s meeting.

It may be mentioned that last week PAC assigned the auditor general for Pakistan the task to probe in which circumstances the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had signed a contract with Broadsheet to trace the assets of Pakistani politicians.

PAC was of the view that the amount paid to the foreign company may be recovered from NAB if the audit report held the bureau responsible.

Recently, the government released $28 million to Broadsheet after the latter secured a verdict from UK’s high court.

Broadsheet had asked for multimillion of dollars from Pakistan for identifying offshore assets of Pakistani citizens to NAB under an Assets Recovery Agreement (ARA).

In 2000, Broadsheet was hired during the era of the then military ruler General Pervez Musharraf to work with the newly established NAB to track down Pakistanis’ ill-gotten wealth stashed overseas. The contract was terminated in 2004.

The sources said during the discussion, former speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq reminded the committee that while he was the speaker he allowed Asad Umar, the then chairman standing committee for industries and production, to summon the NAB chairman. Mr Sadiq said he had passed a ruling that every committee was empowered to discuss any issue and summon any public officeholder.

About the ‘leaked’ information about discussion in the federal cabinet’s meeting, PAC asked the information minister to look into the matter as how such information was leaked and published in newspapers. Mr Faraz assured the committee of holding an inquiry into the matter, said the sources.

When the in-camera session concluded, PAC member Munaza Hassan said the committee should be respected and not stopped from discussing any prevailing issue.

The PAC chairman said the committee should be empowered to inquire issues related to government’s spending. He said it was not the case of an individual or any specific chairman. He said the speaker has no jurisdiction to stop the committee from discussing any matter, adding under the rules PAC was empowered to make deliberations on any issues.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2021

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