Public Accounts Committee to ‘act against SC registrar’
By: Khawar Ghumman
ISLAMABAD: “It’s naked contempt of the parliament. The Supreme Court registrar has breached the privilege of the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly. We have patiently waited for four-and-a-half years and now it’s time to act,” a visibly perturbed Chairman of the PAC, Nadeem Afzal Gondal, said in reaction to the registrar’s refusal to appear before the committee on Friday morning.
Mr Gondal was not the only member of the PAC incensed by the registrar’s snub. The young Noor Alam Khan, a PPP lawmaker from Peshawar, was several steps ahead of his colleagues, suggesting the committee shouldn’t desist from using its constitutional power to ask the police to bring the registrar before it handcuffed.
“We have nothing personal against the SC registrar, but are only talking about the rule of law, according to which the registrar has no other option but to make himself available here,” said Mr Khan. He was of the view that the committee shouldn’t waste more time and issue a summon to him.
The PAC chairman, under clause (3) of Article 66 of the Constitution, has powers vested in civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (Act V of 1908) for enforcing the attendance of any person and compelling the production of documents.
Ms Yasmin Rehman and Rukhsana Bangash of the PPP were also in favour of taking a strict line against the SC registrar, who since early 2009 had been refusing to come before the committee. They said when it came to the rule of law, a sitting prime minister of the country had to appear before court.
“We have taken every legal course of action to convey to the top SC official and have in the meantime displayed extreme caution. It has been more than four years since the PAC has been asking the SC registrar for his appearance. There has to be some limit,” said Yasmin Rehman, a member of the PAC.
She took issue with the argument that the SC drew its expenditure from the consolidated fund and thus, fell out of the PAC’s domain, contending that officials from the presidency, the prime minister’s secretariat, National Assembly and the Senate had all been appearing before the committee even though they, too, drew their money from the consolidated fund.
Yasmin Rehman, throwing a note of caution, added: since only the PAC has the authority to settle accounts of the apex court, the matter would remain unresolved unless he (the registrar) made himself available to the committee.
She said constitutional experts, the law division, the auditor general of Pakistan, all were on one page as far as the PAC’s role in calling the registrar was concerned.
Rukhsana Bangash said the PAC only wanted details of the SC accounts, and had no intention to discuss the conduct of judges.
However, Ayaz Sadiq of the PML-N suggested that instead of summoning the SC registrar, an action that might lead to a clash between the PAC and the apex court, “we should try to seek the National Assembly speaker’s assistance for an amicable solution”.
He agreed with the view that the SC registrar had no option but to appear before the committee. But “we should keep one thing in mind that the registrar represents the honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan, and his every action flows from the Chief Justice of Pakistan”.
Accepting Mr Sadiq’s suggestion, the PAC chairman decided to have one last internal and in camera meeting on Tuesday to decide whether to refer the matter to the house or to straightaway summon the registrar.
“Through media, once again I request the SC registrar to appear before the committee by Tuesday. Otherwise, the committee will be bound to take action in accordance with the law and the Constitution,” said Mr Gondal.
In a veiled warning, Mr Gondal said despite having the power, the committee had acted cautiously so far and the registrar should try to understand “sensitivity of the matter”.
Auditor General Buland Akhtar Rana tried to persuade the committee to go ahead with the completion of its report even if the SC registrar stuck to his position. But the PAC chairman said since it was a mandatory requirement, the committee couldn’t present its report before the house.
The committee, with the backing of the law minister, the auditor general and constitutional experts, had asked the registrar to appear before it on Friday. But he released a statement to the media the previous day saying that he would not do so.