Across the board accountability

The Pak Banker - - Front Page -

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.

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