ISLAMABAD: One reason why it was so hard to convict Pablo Escobar – the famed Colombian drug kingpin – was his “influence” over the justice system in the south American country. His narco-dollars had all but crippled the justice system there.
While the situation is not as dire in Pakistan but it has been discovered that the law ministry, in collusion with a legion of lawyers, has been found involved in doling out money to win favours from the legal fraternity in pursuit of ‘vested interests’.
To add insult to injury, the Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights gave away millions of rupees to lawyers, who had been hired for different assignments during 2015-16, without advertisement or technical evaluation of these lawyers. “Ministry of Law and Justice hired the services of 576 lawyers, took them on their panel, allotted cases to them and made payments aggregating to Rs8.63 million during 2015-16,” noted an audit report prepared by the Auditor General of Pakistan.
The law ministry is the apex legal arm of the government and advises the Centre on legal and constitutional questions, apart from helping provincial governments on legal and legislative matters.
It also deals with drafting, scrutinising bills, legal instruments, international agreements, adoption of existing laws to bring them in conformity with the constitution, legal proceedings and litigation throughout Pakistan concerning the federal government and other subjects. The audit report, which was recently submitted to the Parliament, observed that the management of the ministry neither technical evaluated the qualification and experience of lawyers it was hiring, nor did it provide an opportunity to other lawyers to apply by advertising for the posts.
It added that those hiring lawyers without providing an opportunity to others through open advertisement is discriminatory.
Additionally, the auditor said that hiring the services of lawyers without any technical evaluation and drawing up merit list violated the Public Procurement Rules (PPRA) 2004, and ruled that an expenditure incurred was irregular.
Pointing to how Article 25 of the Constitution states that all citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law, the AGP apparently implied that the ministry, whose prime function was to strive for justice and to advise the government on constitutional questions, was either unaware of the rules, or deliberately neglected it.
The AGP said that rule 20 of PPRA states that the government agencies hiring services of lawyers shall use open competitive bidding as the principal method of procuring goods, services and works.
It added that the Principal Accounting Officer (PAO) was told about the irregularities on January 3, 2017, but the Departmental Accounts Committee (DAC) was not convened till AGP’s office finalised its report.
“AGP has recommended that services of lawyers should be hired by technical evaluation on laid down criteria by inviting applications through open advertisement or position may be clarified otherwise to audit,” it said.
Meanwhile, Legal experts have expressed concern over the cherry picking of “selective lawyers” by the ministry while, apparently, deliberately overlooking the set criteria and doling out millions.
They said that the officials involved in the corrupt practice should be held responsible since “corruption of a single penny is enough to make one guilty”.
Separately, the Supreme Court has recently taken strong exception to the practice of federal and provincial departments hiring services of private attorneys in different cases and using public money to pay their exorbitant fees.
The top court regretted that the government persists in engaging private advocates while presenting no justifiable reason – a practice which must now stop.
The court held that the public exchequer is not there to be squandered in this manner and that the state must protect the belongings and assets of the state and its citizens from waste.
The court had observed that the AGP and the advocate generals of the provinces were constitutional office holders and perform very important duties. It was thus their duty to advise their governments on legal matters and perform other duties of a legal character referred or assigned to them.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2017.
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