Across the board accountability
ONCE again, the apex court is in the news for accountability. Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee has demanded the Supreme Court registrar Faqir Hussain to appear before the committee and present details of the superior court’s administrative budget and expenses.
The demand of registrar’s appearance before the PAC is not new one like the court’s resistance to the parliament since the mid- 2000s. This time the Account’s Committee has not set a fixed deadline for the registrar to appear before the committee but the issue will be clear by mid December if the apex court uses delaying tactics. Experts say there is no clear legal reason the court can resist the PAC’s demand to probe its expenditures.
Though these expenditures are audited by the auditor general of Pakistan but not probed by an independent body like the PAC. The court has taken refuge in a court decision from the mid-2000s after which the PAC’s oversight was rejected but few legal experts accept the court’s rationale. The question is why the court had resisted parliamentary scrutiny of its expenses? Some say in the wake of tussle between the apex judiciary and the government, the court fears public hearing on its expenses could urge politicians to undermine the court’s credibility. We can not expect the PAC will find anything seriously amiss in the court’s administrative expenses. Judges salaries’ are part of the official record and are same is transferred to the court to use in its discretion for salaries of court staff, maintenance of buildings, travel and so on is also well known.
The court fears that the PAC with its public hearings, could turn into a circus where politicians discuss costs to keep a Supreme Court justice in office and the amount spent on infrastructure and travel sums that even if simple could come across in a negative way with the public in a struggling economy and with questions about the court’s ability to deliver effective, timely and low-cost justice. But perceptions are not the law and neither is the PAC a government entity - even after the resignation of Chaudhry Nisar Ali, the PAC remains a cross-party parliamentary body. Every other institution, including the military, has submitted to PAC scrutiny so should the apex court.