ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan denied before the Supreme Court on Thursday that Rs500 million public funds were distributed among the parliamentarians and said no money would be given to the legislators for carrying out any development scheme.
But Justice Qazi Faez Isa, a member of the five-judge special bench, questioned the assurance by presenting a Whatsapp message he had received from an unknown source on Wednesday. The message contained supporting documents showing doling out of massive amounts recently for building roads by the Pak-PWD department in the constituency NA-65 that belongs to an important coalition partner.
Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed however disposed of the matter with an observation that there had been a contest between a judge and the prime minister.
“The divergent opinions and the sharp divide among the judges were in display in the Courtroom No 1 today,” observed a senior counsel who witnessed the episode.
The bench had taken up a case relating to the distribution of Rs500m uplift funds among the legislators.
At the outset of the hearing, Justice Umar Ata Bandial, also a member of the bench, asked Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Khalid Jawed Khan whether he had considered that the prime minister was ever answerable in his personal capacity.
“Why don’t you raise the question of protection available to the prime minister,” Justice Bandial asked the AGP. He said that the court could go against the prime minister if he was answerable since the government spoke through (departmental) secretaries.
“Don’t cause us to do illegal and unconstitutional things,” Justice Bandial emphasised.
The AGP conceded that this was a matter of jurisdiction and the constitution and he would object to that.
“What are you objecting to, whether the constitution or the Feb 3 court orders,” Justice Isa inquired. “Both,” the AGP replied.
“I don’t understand,” Justice Isa said, adding that the AGP should have raised objection at the last hearing on Feb 10. The AGP replied that constitutional objection could be raised any time.
Justice Mushir Alam, another member of the bench, asked the AGP to read out the statement he was required to do under the Feb 10 court orders, which he did and the chief justice observed that it was a comprehensive reply.
Then Justice Isa referred to the Whatsapp message and wondered whether it was not a favour on behalf of the government through disbursement of public money or was it a mere coincidence that NA-65 was represented by an important coalition partner.
“We are not enemies but we are only trying to follow the constitution and want to ensure that corrupt practices are guarded against,” Justice Isa observed and spoke about a barrage of tweets against him.
“Please be reminded that we are guided by the constitution which requires the Election Commission of Pakistan to ensure that no corrupt practice takes place, especially at a time when Senate elections are round the corner,” Justice Isa observed.
Was this not in the knowledge of the prime minister, he observed, adding that they (the judges) knew that the prime minister was protected under Article 248 of the Constitution but there was a difference between his political matters and official acts.
Justice Isa said that the court had not summoned the prime minister when in the past prime ministers and chief ministers had been summoned by the apex court.
“The nation wants to know whether it is the job of the prime minister to distribute envelops as he did in the small gatherings recently,” Justice Isa said, adding that there was concern among the people about his (PM’s) recent statement that five-year term was a short period (for a government). “We only want compliance with the constitution and it is not a matter between A and B.”
The chief justice however observed that the court did not control the prime minister office and that he (PM) had already denied the media reports.
When Additional Advocate General of Punjab Qasim Ali Nawaz Chowhan assured the court that no public funds were being distributed among the lawmakers, Justice Isa asked whether the document, which he had provided to him and the judges, looked genuine or not.
The AGP came to the rescue of Mr Chowhan by saying that it was a genuine complaint and it needed to be examined since a judge was the complainant.
Justice Isa responded that he was only drawing attention by asking whether the document was genuine or not.
“No, no, this is a complaint because it is your Whatsapp message,” the AGP replied but the chief justice immediately intervened to dispose of the case.
Earlier, the AGP read out the statements of the prime minister and Finance Secretary Kamran Ali Afzal and assured the court on behalf of the latter that the finance division had not allocated or given funds to any legislator, nor it intended to do so.
“There is no such provision in the public finance management system [for this],” Mr Afzal said. “Moreover, the finance division has also not received any directive or request from any quarter to allocate these funds or any other funds for any specific project or any project identified by a legislator or any other person.”
Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2021