Public Accounts Committee to take up Supreme Court registrar issue today
By: Asim Yasin
ISLAMABAD: The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is all set to take up the issue of non-appearance of the Supreme Court Registrar today (Tuesday) to decide whether a summon to be issued for his appearance before the committee or a reference should be referred to the National Assembly Speaker in this regard.
PAC Chairman Nadeem Afzal Gondal has invited all the members of the committee for an in-camera meeting that would be held after the main meeting of the PAC, in which the matter of issuance of 4,500 SROs relating the tariff changes issued by the FBR and other issues would be discussed.
According to sources, the majority of the PAC members, comprising the ruling coalition, wanted issuance of warrants for the appearance of the Supreme Court Registrar while the committee members belonging to the PML-N urged that rather than taking such a step that creates the impression of a clash between the institutions it is better that the issue be referred to the NA Speaker.
It is to be mentioned here that under Article 81 of the Constitution, the expenditure on the president, judges of the Supreme Court and the Islamabad High Court, the chief election commissioner, the Senate chairman and the deputy chairman, the National Assembly Speaker and the deputy speaker and the auditor-general shall be expenditure charged upon the Federal Consolidated Fund. So the PAC cannot summon them for audit.
Besides, all payments scrutinised by the pre-audit cell of the AGPR are re-authenticated by the office of the Auditor General in accordance with its standard practices and procedures. The PAC in its meeting on last Friday had summoned the Supreme Court Registrar but he refused to appear before the committee and informed the committee about his non-appearance on legal ground.
After the his non-appearance, the PAC debated that it will take up the issue on today (Tuesday) with holding the in-house meeting of the committee to decide whether the summon be issued or reference to be sent to the NA Speaker.
The decision on summoning the SC Registrar in the PAC was taken on the legal opinion of renowned constitutional experts, including Supreme Court Bar Association former President Yasin Azad, Justice (R) Tariq Mehmood and Justice (R) Shabbar Raza Rizvi, who said that the SC Registrar can be summoned by the PAC for settlements of the accounts, declaring that Parliament can summon the officials of the judiciary for the administrative matters relating to settlement of accounts.
The opinion of legal and constitutional experts were given in the extraordinary meeting of the PAC that was held in October.Though Yasin Azad offered to mediate between the PAC and Supreme Court on this issue and sought a week time for it which was agreed by the PAC, but no headway was made on this count.
In his legal opinion, Justice (R) Shabbar Raza Rizvi had supported the PAC viewpoint, saying that as per Article 70 of the Constitution all principal account officers of offices, departments mentioned in Article 81 are required to attend the meeting of the PAC.
Former President SCBA Yasin Azad had also supported the PAC viewpoint, saying that, being the controlling authority of public exchequer, it was constitutional right of Parliament to check the accounts of all the institutions of the country. “If Parliament gives any direction to summon any one then he must feel that being a representative of the people, it has the right to check the accounts, and any institution of the country being summoned should come before it,” he opined before the committee.
Justice (R) Tariq Mehmood had also supported the PAC view and said the SC reply to the PAC is not a judicial order but an administrative order.
It is to be mentioned here that Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan during his tenure as the PAC chairman in October 22, 2009, had written a letter to the SC Registrar for his appearance before the PAC being principal accounting officer of the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court in a reply to Ch Nisar stated: “The discussion took place in the full Court meeting and there was general consensus that in view of various constitutional provisions relating to the autonomy and independence of this court, the PAC did not have the jurisdiction to ask the registrar or any other functionary of the Supreme Court to appear before it.
“The Supreme Court in its own initiatives, has put in place a pre-audit mechanism, whereby transparency in its spending and accounting process is ensured even a before a sum is disbursed from the budget of the court. This pre audit exercise is undertaken in association with the office of Auditor General, which has opened the counter of the Accountant General of Pakistan Revenues in the premises of the Supreme Court building.”
The SC reply stated: “It is to be clarified that the constitutional provisions, guaranteed the autonomy of the court and are meant to ensure its independence from the other principal organs of State viz, parliament and the executive.”
The apec court also mentioned the Article 68 of the Constitution that reads: “No discussion shall take place in [Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament)] with respect to the conduct of any judge of the Supreme Court or of a High Court in the discharge of his duties.”
This is a complete ban on discussion on the conduct of judges in Parliament. Such conduct would include the discharge of their duties in the administrative and financial affairs of the court.