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LHC allows SBP to retain official

The Lahore High Court.—File Photo

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Tuesday withdrew its stay order and allowed Mohammad Ashraf Wathra to continue working as deputy governor of State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) raised no objection to his appointment.

Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah passed the order while hearing a petition against appointments made by the government after a ban was imposed by the ECP. The petitioner, Munir Ahmed, sought enforcement of articles 62 and 63 of the constitution during scrutiny of the candidates for the coming general elections.

The ECP’s counsel informed the court that the Ministry of Finance had sent a reply to the ECP with regard to Mr Wathra’s appointment and maintained that the appointment was meant for operational needs of the SBP and not for any political purpose. The ECP was satisfied with the ministry’s reply and did not want any further action in this regard, the counsel added.

Justice Shah, however, observed that primarily constitutional responsibility to ensure fair and transparent election vested with the ECP under article 218 of the constitution and the role of courts was to support and facilitate this constitutional function unless and until the act of order of the ECP was not in accordance with the law.

A director of the ECP informed the court about the process of verification of candidates, saying returning officers (ROs) after receiving nomination papers send the names of candidates to the ECP and it forwards the names to the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra). After verifying numbers of computerised national identity cards and providing family tree of candidates, Nadra sends the names to National Accountability Bureau, Federal Board of Revenue and the SBP for further verifications.

When asked whether a complete list of all candidates in Punjab could be produced by the ECP along with the list of candidates against whom at least one of the authorities had given adverse findings, the director said no such data was available with the ECP.

At this, Munir Ahmed’s counsel Azhar Siddique argued that in this eventuality it was possible that ROs might have allowed nomination papers of defaulters as there was no record with the ECP to verify the credentials of candidates.

Justice Shah directed the ECP to tabulate the aforesaid list and more importantly to tabulate the list of candidates whose cases were coming up in appeals before election tribunals.

The judge appointed the president of Lahore High Court Bar Association and vice chairmen of Pakistan Bar Council and Punjab Bar Council as amici curiae to assist the court on the matter.

Justice Shah observed that LHC Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial had constituted a bench to hear cases pertaining to the election process and directed law officers and the ECP’s counsel to produce all lists, documents and complete record of the case before the bench at the next hearing.

The bench headed by Justice Ijazul Ahsan and comprising Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah and Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi will start hearing petitions on Wednesday.