PAC Summons Supreme Court Registrar Over 10 Years Of Missing Audits

PAC Summons Supreme Court Registrar Over 10 Years Of Missing Audits
LAHORE: In a surprise move, on Tuesday, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the Parliament summoned the Registrar of the Supreme Court of Pakistan after Eid for not conducting an audit of SC in the last 10 years.

The meeting of the Public Accounts Committee was held under its chairman MNA Noor Alam Khan, in which the issue of the audit of the Supreme Court was also considered.

The Chairman PAC said that there has been no audit of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the last 10 years. “I will call the principal accounting officer of the Supreme Court, as no audit para of the SC has come to PAC for 10 years,” Khan maintained. He said that the PAC has summoned the registrar SC after Eid for not conducting an audit for 10 years.

He further added that the PAC has also sought the details of the plots given to judges, members of Parliament, federal cabinet members, National Assembly and Senate staff from the CDA.

The PAC had asked for the list and money trails of the owners of Constitution Avenue apartments, but the authorities have failed to provide them so far. Khan asked why the Ministry of Housing did not give the records despite the instructions of the PAC,

“Starting from the front of the Diplomatic Enclave, NAB and FIA must trace the money trail of these apartments and check how many flats there are in One Constitution Building.

Chairman PAC said that Pakistan is getting poor, while these people are getting rich.

Examples from the past

Leading jurist Irfan Qadir, while speaking to The Friday Times (TFT) said that former SC Justice SA Nusrat, along with other judges, regularly used to appear before the PAC and every year, an audit of SC was also conducted by the Auditor General of Pakistan, but during and after the tenure of former CJ Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, this practice was stopped.

“Like all other state institutions, the audit of the Supreme Court must also be conducted, as these are public accounts and the auditor general must have access to the accounts of SC, and he must be allowed to audit them,” Qadir said while adding that it is a good decision by PAC to summon the SC registrar in this regard.

He maintained that these are public accounts and an audit of SC must also be conducted for transparency and accountability.

Speaking to TFT, leading tax consultant Dr. Ikramul Haq said that the fundamental question is whether the Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) has the authority to audit the Supreme Court. “In the absence of such explicit authority under the law and in view of the independence of the highest judicial organ of the State, the insistence of the PAC for the audit is questionable,” he said.

However, Dr. Ikramul Haq added that Article 19A confirms for all citizens a fundamental right "to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law,” it is imperative that for transparency and public confidence, annual accounts are published on the website.

Iftikhar Chaudhry put an end to Supreme Court audits

Sources from within the judiciary confirmed to TFT that in the past, audits of SC were conducted, but at the time when Iftikhar Chaudhry was the Chief Justice and a reference was filed against him in which paras from audit report regarding the misuse of petrol and diesel allowances by his son Arslan Iftikhar and other family members surfaced, they decided not to allow anyone to conduct audits of the Supreme Court.

“That reference was set aside by Justice Khalil Ur Rehman Ramday and wasn’t brought to the Supreme Judicial Council,” a senior official said.

Sources maintained that judges were of the opinion that if their expenditures and spendings are made public, it would expose them.

“They want accountability of everyone except themselves,” they concluded.

‘SC judges used to threaten those who ask for audits’

Sources recalled that former Auditor General of Pakistan Buland Akhtar Rana, who once asked for conducting an audit of SC, was not only threatened, a reference was filed against him for dual nationality in the SJC.

They maintained that it was the first time in Pakistan’s history that a complaint filed in the SJC sought the disqualification of an AGP, and he was removed from his post.

“No other auditor general of Pakistan after this incident decided to conduct an audit of SC and every one was scared of SC judges and Chief Justices,” officials said.

‘Judges claim that an audit challenges the independence of judiciary’

Sources privy to this development told TFT that the audit of SC will challenge the independence of the judiciary, that is why it must not be conducted.

They also claim that as per Article 68 of the Constitution of Pakistan, “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.”

Are apex courts audited in advanced democracies?

A leading constitutional expert, who wished not to be named, told TFT that in most advanced democracies, the judiciary is considered a public body and is hence amenable to audits.

‘Need for legislation’

In Pakistan, there is no law forcing the Supreme Court and High Court to have an annual audit by the AGP. “There is a need for Parliament to pass a law to this effect. In the past, it created a lot of problems for the office of AGP,” he said.  The constitutional expert stressed that the chairman PAC must refer this matter to Parliament for appropriate legislation.

The writer is a senior correspondent at The Friday Times with a focus on politics, economy and militancy. He also hosts the Hassan Naqvi Show on Naya Daur.