ISLAMABAD: While observing that allegations of graft against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family in the Panamagate case are not ‘frivolous’, the top court has said it is the ‘mother of all fundamental rights’ of a citizen to have a prime minister who fulfils all constitutional requirements.
“Qualification of the people’s chosen representatives is a matter of the fundamental right of a citizen. Pakistan can only be run through chosen representatives,” said Justice Azmat Saeed Sheikh — a member of a five-judge bench hearing the Panama Papers case — on Wednesday.
Justice Sheikh observed that it is a legal obligation of every MNA to disclose his assets and liabilities, and if he fails to do so then the court can disqualify him. Article 63 of the Constitution deals with the criteria, violation of which can lead to the disqualification of a member of parliament.
During the hearing, Attorney-General for Pakistan (AGP) Ashtar Ausaf Ali submitted before the bench — headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa — that disputed material was provided by the petitioner [the PTI] and therefore, the “court cannot give a declaration in the case.”
Justice Sheikh asked the AGP to recommend a way forward to adjudicate on the disputed facts in the matter. “Should we sweep the entire petitioner’s allegations under the carpet?” he asked.
Another judge Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan said: “Some facts have been admitted by the ruling family and promise was made [by PM Nawaz] to the people of Pakistan that the complete record will be provided at a relevant forum but it was not given.”
The AGP contended that the state institutions should not be disgraced as he felt embarrassed during his appearances at the international arbitration because these arbitration bodies referred to the statements of the country’s dignitaries against the national departments.
“When the state institutions themselves tend to be disgraceful then what should we do,” asked Justice Khosa. He also asked the AGP to think as to why such remarks were being issued against the state institutions.
Referring to the statement made on Tuesday by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman before the apex court, Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan said the chairman did not file an appeal against the 2014 Lahore High Court’s (LHC) verdict in Hudabiya Paper Mills case as “he was looking towards the person [PM Nawaz] who appointed him”.
NAB Chairman Qamar Zaman Chaudhry on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that NAB would stick to its earlier decision not to challenge the LHC verdict which quashed the 17-year-old Hudabiya Paper Mills reference against the Sharif family.
Expressing disappointment over NAB chairman’s conduct, Justice Sheikh remarked that NAB chief has made it clear that he would not file appeal against the LHC verdict and the court could do whatever it liked. The judge observed that the accountability body’s head was the “insurance policy of the PM”.
In his arguments, the AGP contended that the top court cannot directly disqualify a member of the National Assembly. “The writ of quo warranto could not be filed for the disqualification of an MNA as he is not holder of a public office,” he upheld.
He, however, stated that proceedings against the PM can be initiated under section 42 of Representation of People Act (RoPA) 1976.
Concluding his arguments, the AGP said if the PTI chief Imran Khan wanted to file an appeal against the three-year-old LHC judgment for quashing Rs1.2 billion reference against the Sharif family then he would not object to Imran’s locus standi.
Justice Khosa questioned whether the prime minister had given any statement that his son Hussain Nawaz owned the London flats. “The PM in his three speeches used the words ‘our flats, our businesses’ but he did not say that the properties are owned by his son,” he observed.
Starting his rebuttal, the PTI counsel Naeem Bukhari requested the top court to accept stance of the PM Nawaz regarding his family’s London properties as “his sons’ statements are hearsay”.
However, Justice Sheikh observed that if the Sharif family’s stance is hearsay then the court cannot declare that the petitioner’s (PTI’s) claim is right. Later, the bench asked the PTI counsel to complete his arguments today till 11:00. It is expected that Panamagate proceedings will be concluded today (Thursday).
Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2017.