Despite his strong reservations, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on Saturday administered oath to Akhtar Buland Rana as the new Auditor-General of Pakistan, a constitutional office he can hold for the next four years.
Before the chief justice, who had earlier written letters to the president and prime minister concerning the ‘controversial’ appointment, administered the oath, the registrar of the apex court, in a rare precedent, read out a note duly mentioning reservations against Rana.
Rana, who was elevated to grade 22 earlier this month, was appointed as the new auditor-general on August 23 by President Asif Ali Zardari on the recommendation of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.
The chief justice had sent a letter to the president based on reports of the ISI, FIA and comments received from the former auditor-general in response to a notice issued on an anonymous application received in the Human Rights Cell of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Rana was faced with allegations of holding three passports, two NICs and Canadian nationality without the government’s permission. He was also accused of allegedly assaulting a female subordinate during his service.
Before the oath was administered, the registrar quoted the contents of the CJP’s letter that stated: “It is to be noted that, once a person is appointed Auditor General and administered oath of office by the Chief Justice, he enjoys the status of holder of a constitutional office. His removal is only possible by adhering to the procedure prescribed for removal of Judges of the Superior Courts before the Supreme Judicial Council in terms of Article 209 of the Constitution. Being the Chief Justice and Chairman of the Supreme Judicial Council, while discharging my duties and performing my functions, I honestly consider it necessary to bring it into the notice of the competent authority about the credentials of Mr Muhammad Akhtar Buland Rana, which, I believe, perhaps were not in the notice of the office, which processed his case. However, if, on having taken into consideration the above noted facts, the competent authority still desires that he should be administered the oath, I may be informed accordingly.”
Following the 18th constitutional amendment, the tenure of the AGP has been reduced from five to four years and the holder of the office can be removed only through a reference in the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC).
Zardari responds to CJP’s letter
The office of the Supreme Court confirmed that it had received a response by the president. According to sources, Zardari rejected all accusations against Rana, saying that he was the appropriate person for the post and the accusations against him were never proven. He added that Rana was the senior most officer of the audit department and according to service rules his dual nationality could not be used as a factor to stop his appointment, according to sources.
Constitutional experts, however, appeared to be divided on the issue of the removal of a constitutional office holder. Barrister Waseem Sajjad was of the view that the proceedings can only be initiated in the SJC through a presidential reference. “If the president is convinced, he will then send a reference to the SJC,” he said.
Advocate Ikram Chaudhry said that the chief justice through his letter provided an opportunity to ‘save face’ to the president, who, instead, gave a “clean chit to Rana as he did with Rehman Malik”.
Ikram Chaudhry was of the view that since the issue is of public importance a petition under article 184(3) can be filed in the Supreme Court against the new appointment. A presidential reference is not the only remedy available in the constitution against such appointments, he said. A few months back, he added, the apex court declared the appointment of Syed Deedar Hussain Shah as Chairman NAB illegal through a petition filed under article 184(3). He was also constitutional officer holder.
However, Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court Senator S M Zafar was of the view that there is no alternative remedy available in the constitution for the removal of an auditor-general. Article 168 (5) is quite clear on this regard, he said. Zafar further said that the SJC was the only appropriate forum to address the issue. Following the 18th amendment, not only is a presidential reference required to initiate proceedings against a constitutional officer holder but the general public can also approach the SJC in this regard.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 28th, 2011.
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