Of Pemra's private members eligibility, qualification -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Of Pemra’s private members eligibility, qualification

Pakistan Press Foundation

ISLAMABAD: Why do governments appoint ineligible persons on key positions and why even new but different governments feel comfortable with such appointees? The appointment of members of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) by the previous government is a classical example of this phenomenon.

A top bureaucrat explained that governments make such appointments so as to use them as per its wishes and to fulfill their vested interests. “It is done so that even if some illegally-appointed officer at some point of time refuses to obey the wrong orders of their masters, the rulers can get them removed on the basis of their ineligibility,” he said adding: “In majority of cases, such a situation doesn’t arise and such illegally-appointed officials continue to blindly obey unlawful orders of their bosses.”

The official said that even when governments changed and new people came to power, who apparently were opponents of previous rulers, they too continued with such illegally-appointed people and felt comfortable with them for the same reason.

Private members of the most important Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) appointed by the former PPP government were either not eligible to be appointed as members, didn’t have the requisite qualification, were non-professional and one of them allegedly remained involved in criminal activities. Even the PPP disowned some of them when they played into the hands of undemocratic forces and tried to act unconstitutionally. Ironically, this government is also mysteriously silent over these irregular appointments and is reluctant to remove them.

The relevant clauses of Section-6 of Pemra law explain qualifications and expertise of members as follows: (1) The Authority shall consist of a Chairman and twelve members to be appointed by the President of Pakistan. (2) The Chairman of the Authority shall be an eminent professional of known integrity and competence having substantial experience in media, business, management, finance, economics or law. (3) Out of twelve members, one shall be appointed by the Federal Government on full-time basis and five shall be eminent citizens chosen to ensure representation of all provinces with expertise in one or more of the following fields: media, law, human rights, and social service. Of the five members from the general public, two members shall be women.

Israr Ahmed Abbasi, the Pemra member from AJ&K/GB, was a political activist (PPP worker) and could never be considered a law expert given his activities, political motives and repute. He also served as the deputy speaker of the AJK Assembly and has no expertise in any of the mentioned fields. Israr Abbasi was designated as the Pemra member from the AJK. Under the law, there can be no member from the AJK as members can be taken only from the provinces. Pemra has established one of its offices in the AJK but the AJK high court had stopped Pemra from functioning within the AJK as the authority had nothing to with Azad Kashmir affairs in any way. His appointment is illegal by all means but the PML-N government is still continuing with him. Israr introduces himself as the Pemra member from the AJK on all official documentations and has recently moved the Islamabad High Court by mentioning the same designation.

When The News approached Israr Abbasi on Tuesday, he admitted that the law doesn’t permit appointing any member from the AJK and GB. “At the time of my appointment, it was discussed if there could be five members, so one should be from the AJK,” Israr Abbasi said but admitted: “There is no provision that a member can be appointed from AJK as members can only be appointed from the provinces.” Israr Abbasi, however, said that his appointment was challenged in the Lahore High Court (LHC) and this plea was not accepted by the court.

Israr Abbasi even contested the May 11, 2013 general elections under the name “Raja Israr Ahmed Abbasi Advocate” from NA-56 Rawalpindi on a PPP ticket and secured 4,091 votes.

Israr Abbasi defended his appointment, denying any political or questionable affiliations or connections with some circles. He does not attend Pemra meetings but continues to accept Rs40,000 for every meeting. He has no expertise whatsoever regarding the media or relevant laws. Israr was caught red-handed misinterpreting and misrepresenting a Supreme Court judgment for his vested interests but so far no action has been taken against him.

Israr Abbasi told The News that no Pemra law makes him ineligible to become a Pemra member even if he was a leader of the ruling political party. Israr frankly admitted that he was not attending Pemra meetings as he doesn’t consider the incumbent acting chairman as a legally appointed chairman but was accepting Rs40,000 per meeting as it was his right.

Another Pemra member, Fareeha Iftikhar, also remained attached with the previous government indirectly. She is a member from the KPK but resides in Islamabad. Her husband held an important office during the previous regime. She was also an employee of the Canadian High Commission in the relevant field at the time of her appointment. She had no expertise required for a Pemra member. Her work at the Canadian High Commission was in direct conflict of interest with her assignment at Pemra as its member. However, the present government has not made any move to remove her. She offered her resignation this year when it was highlighted that she could not become a member of the authority.

Talking to The News, Fareeha admitted that her husband was the head of a government department during the previous regime. She admitted frankly that she was an officer in the Canadian High Commission at the time of her appointment as a Pemra member but insisted that there was no conflict of interest. Regarding her eligibility to be appointed as member Pemra, Fareeha said that she was appointed by the president and the appointing authority must have been satisfied with her CV and that was why she was appointed. “Only the appointing authority could decide whether I was eligible or not,” Fareeha concluded.

Another Pemra member, Mian Shams, is from the Punjab and was also a worker of a political party and possesses no qualification whatsoever that would enable him to become a member of the authority. He continued to hold important offices in the PPP government and his affiliation with the PPP was his only qualification. To mention some details of allegations about his alleged criminal activities: Mian Shams, his father and brothers were found involved in occupying the land of children park and a mosque. Not only this, his two brothers were convicted for attempt to murder and illicit weapons were recovered from them. Mian Shams, his father Mian Zahoorud Din, brothers Waheed Ahmed and Qamrud Din remained involved in building shops for marble business on illegally-occupied one kanal, 10 marla land of mosque and Children Park worth millions of rupees, in Pathar Market, Begum Road. According to May 28, 2014 Jang report, they assaulted the municipal corporation workers who had gone there to raze the illegal construction. According to Imran Ehsan’s story in Jang on May 28, deciding the ownership of the land in Mian Zahoor vs Mst Khursheed Ishrat case, the chief settlement commissioner on July 30, 2008, cancelled the transfers of land of 6 kanal and 2 marla besides Masjid Ghousia’s 6 marla land. The additional collector, Lahore, wrote a letter to the assistant commissioner Model Town on October 2, 2012, to get all the occupied land vacated. The Tehsildar and Patwari of the area prepared a report of the visit that the land be got vacated and transferred to the city district government to build a park there. Afterwards, corporation officials went to the place to remove the encroachments but occupation of the mosque land was maintained by showing the stay order on the Children Pak on the behalf of Zahoor Ahmed and Mian Shams. Imamuddin Nasir is a complainant in some cases against Mian Shamsuddin, his father and brothers. When he was contacted in this regard, he produced documentary proofs and stated that Mian Shamsuddin and his brothers were landgrabbers and they had built shops on the land allocated for children’s park and a mosque (Ghausia Masjid) in the area. He disclosed that the Qabza Mafia had rented out these shops and Sham’s brothers receive rent from the tenants. Providing proof, he said the ‘khasra’ (land reference) number of the plot allocated for a mosque in the Pathar Market is 26538/7220, while the ‘khasra’ number of the land allotted for children’s park is 2,26539/7220. Imamuddin Nasir said the brothers of Shamsuddin attempted to get him killed because he was aware of their black deeds. He said he was seriously injured in the firing. These people occupied the land of two sisters, Khursheed Ishrat and Mumtaz Jehan. Imamuddin said this family had obtained a stay order over a mosque’s land and showed the stay order for the land of a children park. The address for Wapda meters installed at the shops illegally constructed on this land is also different. He said this family also tampered with various official records. “A bogus case was registered against me to weaken the case of firing at me,” he said and added: “I appeal to the chief justices of the Supreme Court, Lahore High Court, Punjab chief minister, and the inspector-general of Punjab police to act against the Qabza mafia and reclaim my land from illegal occupation.”

Talking to The News on Tuesday, Mian Shams said that all allegations of criminal activates against him were wrong and baseless. He said that his qualification to become a Pemra member could be checked from his CV in the President House as the President of Pakistan had appointed him. Shams didn’t disclose his areas of expertise and insisted that the record of the Presidency should be checked. He also admitted receiving Rs40,000 per meeting without attending the meeting but maintained that cheques were sent to his home address by Pemra office.

Shama Parveen Magsi is the Pemra member from Balochistan. She also had close political association with the previous ruling party and her degree was declared invalid. Her name still appears on the List of Fake/Invalid degree holders on the official website of the ECP. She is mentioned as a social worker but is a known politician. The Balochistan government recommended her name as a Pemra member while her husband was the governor of Balochistan. She submitted her BBA degree which she said she obtained in 2005 from the International University of America (London), which too has been declared as a Non-Chartered University.

She told The News it was the prerogative of the Balochistan government to recommend names and many names were recommended. She said that her name was finalised and only her appointing authority would know why she was selected. She refuted all the allegations against her and insisted that she was eligible for the post.

Zeba Hussain is the Pemra member from Sindh. She is also mentioned as a social worker but runs a big boutique business and is close to a media house, which was considered close to the previous rulers. Despite many attempts, she refused to talk to The News regarding her eligibility to become a Pemra member, as she didn’t fulfill any of the conditions to become a member of the authority.

The News